North Miami — BURLY, bearded Abbas Hassani Shishehbor says he has traveled to every state in the country during his 13 years here. He wanted to see, he says, ``Was it the right place for me to live all my life?'' ``And it was,'' he adds. Today, Mr. Shishehbor becomes an American in a Miami swearing-in ceremony with 14,000 other new citizens.
This particular new American came of age in the Shah's Iran, so he has a vivid appreciation of freedom of speech and expression. But he speaks of becoming an American not as a repudiation of his home country, but as part of his family's betterment.
``My father says, `I can [help the family] this much. Now you can do it better.''
Shishehbor first arrived in Miami, seeking the college education he couldn't get in Iran. He married a North Dakota farm girl, and now they have two American children (the second just a few weeks old) and live in a neatly kept middle-class neighborhood.
He leads an American-looking life already. But becoming a citizen means much more than just being able to vote. ``Outside, I don't think anything changes,'' he says. ``But inside, you're an American. When you're not a citizen, you know the difference.''
He doesn't think of baseball or hamburgers when he thinks of the United States. Rather, he says, ``When I think of America I imagine something very big which contains everything in it.''
He feels it most clearly when abroad, he says. ``When you say you're an American, you're part of something very big. You're special. I like that.'' The bigness is not just America's power in the world, he says. ``The people are big in mind.... The whole system works better than any system that I've studied or heard, and I want to be part of it.''
Shishehbor is optimistic about the future of the US. The country is still young, he says, and ``There's enough brains in this country to run it right.'' Many countries, including Iran, have large numbers of educated people, he explains, ``but there's no freedom, so you can't speak up.''
Now he could not go back to Iran. ``There's no way I could go back and live like those people. Khomeini took the country back a thousand years.''
His message to those who have been Americans longer? It's a big country with plenty of room. ``I don't think Americans should stop people from coming to this country -- if they have legitimate reasons for coming,'' he says.