The Newest Americans
New world, new life for new U.S. citizens
CONCORD — Before coming to America, the Iraqi woman needed to dodge death each day to reach the Baghdad hospital where she was a doctor.
"Just going to work we'd have cars following us for no reason shooting like in the air or shooting at the car," said Alea, who didn't want her last name used to protect relatives still in Iraq. "The driver had to escape, try to find a new route to go to work."
She wondered each day which co-worker she wouldn't see.
"People are missing; they're supposed to show up for work. They won't because they're on their way to work and they get kidnapped or killed," Alea said during an interview at the federal courtroom Friday.
Five years after she and five family members fled Iraq as refugees, Alea became a U.S. citizen, along with 80 others during a naturalization ceremony.
"It means that I have the right to live as a human being," said Alea, who works as an emergency department technician at Concord Hospital while waiting to get her doctor's license.
"I will not have to think anymore that I can be prostituted or killed for any reason for being a woman, for being who I am ... ," she said.
"I can't believe that what happened in the past did actually happen. It's like surreal," Alea said of her life in Iraq. "I feel like I have a new life given to me, a new life, born again in a different place where it's safer. It was just a dream, a nightmare that I had, and I woke up from it."
U.S. Judge Paul Barbadoro welcomed the new citizens from 36 countries, hailing from Bolivia to Venezuela.
"(In) New Hampshire, one of the least diverse states in the United states, this is an incredible explosion of diversity that happens at these naturalization ceremonies," Barbadoro said.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, who posed for pictures with the freshly minted U.S. citizens, told them that they can improve their new country.
"Regardless of why you came here and regardless of what you're doing now, the thing about America and the thing about the Granite State is that you all have an equal opportunity to contribute and to build our country and to help make it even better," Hassan said. "It doesn't matter where you started. It matters that you're here and it matters that you have an opportunity that this country and our founders provided."
Three Iraqis were among the new citizens, including two married teachers who resettled in Concord.
Anwer Ismael and his wife, Hayat Wali, left Iraq in June 2008 for a place where they could make their own decisions.
Back home, she said, "It looks like somebody holding the remote control for your life and asking you to do this and this."
Wali said she liked the fact that the state has a woman governor and an all-female congressional delegation.
"First, it's a country of the women's rights and New Hampshire is a feminine state," she said after the ceremony.
Wali, who is an Arabic language interpreter like her husband, has applied to Southern New Hampshire University to pursue a master's degree in English as a second language.
The family got help from Kathy Hedstrom, a Concord resident who read that refugees do better if they have a mentor. She met the family at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Concord.
"God brought these people here," Hedstrom said. "I thought this was a message."
Hedstrom laughed while recalling trying to teach Ismael how to drive a car. "He finally got it," she said.
The couple's new citizenship means their daughter and two sons, all born in Iraq, now are eligible for U.S. citizenship.
"I love New Hampshire," Wali said. "I don't want to leave it."