The Green Card: Ticket to a Life in America Among the 300 million people living in America are hundreds of thousands who won green cards through a lottery run by the State Department. Lois Wamaitha of Kenya and Hiroaki Honshuku of Japan both received green cards through the program.
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The Green Card: Ticket to a Life in America

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The Green Card: Ticket to a Life in America

The Green Card: Ticket to a Life in America

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

All week we've been settling into the idea that there are now 300 million people living in the United States. Today, the stories of two of them who are here because they got lucky. Every year the State Department offers green cards to 50,000 foreign nationals chosen at random through a lottery.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, as it's called, was created by Congress in 1990. It's opened to citizens of most countries. Excluded are those with the highest rates of immigration; China and Mexico, for example. Among the hundreds of thousands who've come to the U.S. or are able to stay in the U.S. thanks to the program: a jazz musician and a law student. Here are their stories of life in America.

Mr. HIROAKI HONSHUKU (Jazz Musician): Hello, my name is Hiroaki Honshuku. I came to U.S. in 1987 and received a green card in 1991.

Ms. LOIS WAMAITHA (Law Student): My name is Lois Wamaitha from Kenya. Came to the United States through the green card program 1997. Coming to America is a lot of people's dream, you know. For me, I had always thought about it, but I never dreamed it would happen to me.

Mr. HONSHUKU: I always had the thought I wanted to come here to experience the music I like. The first week I came here my roommate took me to see George Garzon, who is a local star, tenor player. Amazing. I was blown away. That was something I never experienced in my life.

Ms. WAMAITHA: In Kenya I was a teacher. I taught French and Swahili and English. And my first job in America was I babysat. That was my first job, you know, to get you to pay your bills. But at the back of my mind I was, you know, thinking, you know, I came here, and is that all? What else can I do? Because I'm here, I'm in America. I mean, people die to come to this country. People want to come here.

I always wanted to be a lawyer from, you know, from the point when you're asked, what do you want to be when you grow up? That's what I wanted to be. And being a lawyer I can see now this is one desire of mine that's within reach.

Mr. HONSHUKU: I attended Berkeley College of Music. The first class, ensemble class, this teacher told me that I am someone from Far East, don't ever expect to be able to play the American heritage jazz music. Which sounded kind of nasty and tough, but I totally agree. I will not be able to play jazz music as native would do.

I didn't have that in my culture. I am a classical music background. So he just woke me up. What I need to do is write my own music, and in the end he gave me a pretty good grade.

Ms. WAMAITHA: We will tell them about their Kenyan roots. We will take them to Kenya and show them from where we come. And Kenyan is not just me being Kenyan. It's also me being Kikoyu(ph). Because in Kenya we have the tribes and I'll crack you up - I mean we've been trying to take my son here, Kikoyu. And it's the funniest thing to hear him - he speaks with an accent, with an American accent. We're like, why are we bothering?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HONSHUKU: I am very much Japanese who loves being here. I so love the heritage of Japan in certain degree as much as I hate the expectation Asian culture carries. On the other hand, I love the easy going-ness of the American's culture. Like well, you couldn't do it, that's all right. Just do it right next time. It's great. It's such a great attitude, which I don't think we have in Japan.

Ms. WAMAITHA: My husband has been, you know, saying, you know, we need to fill the citizenship paperwork. And I'm like, yeah, yeah, you know, you do it, I'll do it. You know, you do it. And just the other day I just found myself, you know, I don't know what came into me. And I said to myself, you know, for a country to offer green cards or whatever, you know, come, live and work, I guess they're of the mind that you will like this place so much you will want to belong to America.

So you know, I want to believe in America. To want to belong to it.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Lois Wamaitha of Kenya and Hiroaki Honshuku of Japan, chance winners in the green card lottery, and now two of the 300 million residents of the United States.

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