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Helping workers become citizens is Sweet job

Company offers classes and honors its new Americans

SHARE Helping workers become citizens is Sweet job

Nga Nguyen said she didn't know what to say Tuesday when she was presented with an American flag, commemorating her newly earned U.S. citizenship.

But when asked why she wanted to be an American citizen, her response spoke volumes.

"Freedom," she said, her soft voice but a whisper.

Nguyen and her co-worker, Mohammed Al-Aetiaj, were honored at a pre-Fourth of July celebration hosted by their employer, Sweet Candy Co. The company awarded flags to five employees last year, and Sweet Candy president Tony Sweet said he hopes it becomes a longstanding tradition.

"What better way to celebrate Independence Day than giving flags to new citizens," Sweet said. "When you put yourself in their shoes and see the extra effort they've put into becoming citizens of this country, it goes without saying that we're extremely proud."

The company employs about 100 workers and has in recent years implemented programs to help its foreign-born employees in their efforts to gain citizenship. Human resources manager David Pierce said the company offers one citizenship class weekly, along with other courses in English, mathematics and computers. Sweet Candy also encourages its management team to become conversant in other languages, primarily Spanish.

"We are going to have to become bilingual," Pierce said. "We need to be more effective in communicating with our employees."

Nguyen, born in Vietnam the daughter of an American soldier, came to the United States 11 years ago with the help of the U.S. government. She was accompanied by her mother and brother.

"I came because I like it, America," she said. "I like Utah."

Al-Aetiaj fled Iraq following the Gulf War, unhappy with Saddam Hussein's regime. He spent nearly five years in a war camp in Saudi Arabia before the American government brought him to Utah.

"I used to be a soldier in the Gulf War against the U.S.," he said. "But I didn't like the war, or how Saddam Hussein treated the people. I ran away."

As with Nguyen, the government chose Utah for Al-Aetiaj. And like Nguyen, he and his family — his wife and four children — chose to stay.

"Yes, I stayed," he said. "It's nice here, and peaceful. And it is really good to have the kids grow up in America. They'll be more knowledgeable and have more chances to get a better job, and better skills."

That's something Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, hopes all Americans will remember and value.

"You'd like to think that it is important to feel a part of the country where you live and work," Matheson said during Tuesday's ceremony. "And I think we all ought to be proud to be citizens of this country."

E-MAIL: jnii@desnews.com