For many people around the world, America is a symbol of freedom. For the group of new U.S. citizens standing onstage with Oprah, voting for the first time in the 2008 election is a gift they're not taking for granted.
Viorica is originally from the former Soviet Union and became a U.S. citizen in the summer of 2008. After becoming a legal citizen, Viorica knew exactly what she wanted to do. "The first thing that I did when I walked out of the courtroom was go and register to vote," she says. Viorica says there is no comparison between voting in the United States and her home country. "When you live in a communist system, the whole process is staged. There is only one candidate on the ballot; you don't have a choice. So voting there is meaningless."
Natalie was born in Rwanda and says the voting in her home country is nothing like in the United States. " I don't think I would have voted, because I don't think it would have made a difference anyway, simply because the votes are manipulated [in Rwanda]."
Now that she is a U.S. citizen and can vote in her first election, Natalie says she wishes her parents were still alive so that she could thank them for the sacrifices they made for her. Like 800,000 Rwandans, Natalie's parents and older sister were killed in the Rwandan genocide. "I wish right now I could call my father and say, 'Dad, thank you. Mom, thank you,'" she says. "I can't. But I know they're watching over me."
Farnaz is also voting in her first election after moving from Iran and becoming a U.S. citizen in 2006. "I came to America 14 years ago, even though I had a good job," she says. "I had good income, I had a beautiful house, I had everything—the only thing I didn't have was freedom." After Farnaz casts her ballot, she says it's like a dream come true. "Now, I made it."