New Americans. Abbas Hassani Shishehbor

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.

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