Paths to Patriotism: A young immigrant

Of all the reactions of people living in the US on Sept. 11, Luis Barreto's must have been among the most unusual: "The first thought I had was, 'Not again.' "

For most young Americans, Sept. 11 was an introduction to terrorism. For Mr. Barreto, it was a reacquaintance. After all, the only reason he is in the US, hovering over a bank of blinking computers here at Foothill College, is that back in his native Peru, terrorists sought to kill his father.

He remembers the times when terrorists would blow up power stations, leaving blocks of the capital city in the dark. He remembers the death threats he got when militants confused him with his father, who shares the same name. He remembers how the United States heard his father's plea for asylum, allowing the whole Barreto family to come to California.

He is not yet a US citizen, but he wants to be one, and if that time comes, he'd like to show his thanks. "When we got here, we saw so many opportunities," says Barreto, who has one year left to complete his double major in computer science and computer networking. "I want to defend it for my children, and at least I'll help a little by doing what I can."

Barreto is not a typical immigrant. Although polls show greater stirrings of national pride among all groups, his devotion to the US is exceptional. Among many immigrants, this new love of country is tempered by a firsthand knowledge – and sometimes resentment – of America's cultural and economic hegemony.

Yet, among some, like Barreto, the US represents a salvation from extreme poverty, fear, or even violence. They value the freedoms this country has given them, and their gratitude is nearly boundless.

Barreto would like to serve in the military one day, and he has no qualms about what the US is doing overseas. "In the first weeks, I thought we should have reacted harder," he says. "I was very upset."

The young Peruvian confesses he isn't much of a historian. He's heard tales about US involvement in many Latin American countries, but he largely brushes them off.

He is a college student who first defines being a good citizen as "paying your taxes." But thinking about the topic more deeply, he says military service is an important part, as well as community service.

On this holiday weekend, he, his parents, and his two brothers will enjoy a barbecue. But for his family, July 4 will always be tinged by a deeper meaning, too: "We're trying to give thanks for all that has been given to us."

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