During her 21 years of residence in the US, Bounnong Arounvong, a Laotian refugee who resettled in 1988, applied for citizenship four times and underwent eight different interviews. Each time she applied, she failed.
As a permanent resident, Bounnong worked until retirement, rented an apartment, and owned a vehicle. However, she dreamed she had the right to travel out of the country with an American passport and to vote.
Bounnong came to the Chinese Mutual Aid Association (CMAA) for help. Lilli Dang- the manager of Citizenship in the Chicago office, and Ket Herena- the Manager of Elgin Initiatives, helped her through the citizenship application process.
Bounnong’s dream came to fruition when she met Phetsamone Maha, an Illinois Welcoming Center staff member of CMAA at Elgin, in January 2023, a month before her citizenship interview. Phetsamone tutored Bounnong a few times a week in Lao and helped Bounnong prepare for an interview in her native language.
Phetsamone also accompanied Bounnong to her naturalization interview in February as her interpreter. On March 9th, 2023, Bounnong celebrated her new status as a naturalized citizen. Shortly after, Phetsamone assisted Bounnong in completing a passport application. Within a couple of months, Bounnong’s American passport arrived. Her dream came true. From now on, she can travel using an American Passport and vote in any election. On April 3, 2023, Ket helped her with voter registration and got her to come and vote with other CMAA members. The CMAA program helps her to become a U.S. citizen who is informed and active in the community.