04/25/14 — Military spouse among those taking citizenship oath Saturday

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Military spouse among those taking citizenship oath Saturday

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 25, 2014 1:46 PM

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Mei Parker, a personal chef in Fayetteville with her own business, has lived in the U.S. for 25 years but officially becomes an American citizen on Saturday during a ceremony at the N.C. Pickle Festival. Nearly 60 people are expected to participate in the ceremony in downtown Mount Olive at 9 a.m.

Mei Parker left her home in Malaysia at 21, when she married her military husband.

They initially lived in California before settling in Fayetteville.

After 25 years in the U.S., she has been in this country longer than her homeland. But she has yet to become an American citizen.

That will be remedied on Saturday morning, when she joins nearly five dozen others participating in a naturalization ceremony at the N.C. Pickle Festival in Mount Olive.

"I guess it's time," she said Wednesday. "America's my home.

"It's always been on my mind. One of the reasons I never did pursue it like most people, when they arrive, it's because all my family's back home in Malaysia and one of my mother's wishes was that I keep my citizenship (there).

She explained that her mother had concerns that should anything ever happen, Mei (pronounced "May") would always have a home to return to.

This country has been very good to the transplant, she said.

It is where she and her now-retired husband, Steve Parker, raised a son, who is 20 and in the Marines.

She has also had a succession of good jobs along the way.

"When I came to America, I did every kind of corporate job," she said. "I was a legal secretary in California, for Exxon."

She held similar roles when she moved to North Carolina, but became a stay-at-home mom for a few years after her son was born.

"I took courses on medical transcription and was a medical transcriptionist," she said. "Good job, good pay, but my heart has always been in the food industry."

She came from a family of cooks, she says, which led to her going to culinary school and becoming a personal chef.

Her business, Chef Mei Personal Chef Service, involves cooking for clientele at home, doing catered and corporate events, as well as offering personal cooking classes.

"I love the variety that my job allows me," she said. "I would not have that opportunity back in my country.

"That's one thing that America has afforded me -- living the American dream -- to be my own boss, make my own money."

This weekend she will accomplish another goal, making her citizenship official.

The task involved extensive preparation for the test, she said.

"I had to study, which is something I have not done in a long time," she said. "To me, that was the hardest part. And my job takes a lot of my time. Any time in-between, I have been reading up.

"I guess for people like me who have been here longer, it's easier because I know the language. It's 100 questions that you have to study. It's pretty daunting, even for me. But I passed it."

And Saturday morning at 9 a.m., the 46-year-old will be able to take on new bragging rights.

"It means that I finally can call America my home and be proud to be an American citizen," she said.