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Medical Student Was Raised in United States

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

While Mexico is the home country for more new citizens than any other, a great many naturalized citizens came here from Asia. More than 30,000 each from the Philippines, Vietnam, China and India. Ravneet Ruby Kaur came here from the Indian state of Punjab with her family when she was six years old. That was back in 1986. Her family, religious Sikhs, were concerned about the civil unrest in their homeland, so they decided to stay in the U.S.

NPR's Carrie Kahn reports that Ruby Kaur, now 26, has become a U.S. citizen after two decades in the country.

CARRIE KAHN: Ruby Kaur is fun. She has bright brown eyes, big lips and is always smiling. She says she's shy. Maybe that accounts for all the laughter. But she exudes confidence, and when she slips off her high-heeled pumps and puts on the flip flops, she's really hard to keep up with.

Ms. RAVNEET KAUR: Sorry, I've got places to go, things to do.

KAHN: Do you always have flip flops in your backpack?

Ms. KAUR: I do. They're a must have.

KAHN: Especially on a busy day, and every day is busy. Kaur is in her second year at UCLA medical school. She holds down two jobs, volunteers at a free clinic and is always moving.

Right now, the flip flops are on and she's rushing to her next class. The pace doesn't get her down. She says since she was a little kid, this is what she's dreamed of doing.

Ms. KAUR: Actually, I've always wanted to be a doctor.

KAHN: She says she was six when her mother, who only spoke Punjabi, started showing signs of schizophrenia.

Ms. KAUR: I thought I would go to the doctor's offices with her, more the translator being the oldest, you know? And so I just had an opportunity to be exposed to a lot of doctors and nurses at that time and they just had a very positive effect on me. I really admired what they did.

KAHN: Now she gets to be the doctor, or for the next few years, learns how to be one.

Unidentified Woman: Mr. Marlow is 43 and he's come in today for assessment of lower back pain.

KAHN: This is Kaur's doctoring class. The patient is an actor and students are trying to get to the root of his pain.

Ms. KAUR: You know, does he have any allergies to medications? Is he taking anything else at all?

KAHN: Kaur credits her father for her getting into medical school and getting her U.S. citizenship. She's worked hard too, but she says she owes a lot to her dad. After her mom got sick and went back to India - Kaur was nine then - her dad set out to raise three young girls. Kaur says that was a big challenge for a man with a traditional Indian upbringing.

Ms. KAUR: So my dad has taken on, you know, everything from cooking, cleaning, bathing us when we were younger, to buying us tampons when we were in our adolescence.

KAHN: Kaur says her dad was always there for her and her sisters, even though he worked a 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. shift driving a taxi. And she says it was her dad who did all the paperwork, paid all the fees and followed all the rules and wait times so she can get her citizenship.

So ten days ago, 20 years after arriving in the country, Kaur stood alongside 3,600 new Americans, raised her right hand and took the Oath of Citizenship.

Ms. KAUR: I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

KAHN: Kaur says she's excited about finally getting to vote, and finally being able to travel using a U.S. passport. She spends her summers abroad working with AIDS orphans in Ethiopia. She was sad, though, that her dad couldn't be at the ceremony, even though all of the girls are away at college, Kaur said he couldn't leave his ailing mother, who he now cares for 24/7. And besides, immediately after the ceremony, Kaur still had morning classes to attend and then afternoon appointments at work.

Ms. KAUR: Okay. There you go.

KAHN: She does laser tattoo removal at a Beverly Hills clinic. Her patient on this day is getting his third treatment removing a small tattoo on his arm.

Ms. KAUR: All right, Josh, keep me close. You can ask me to stop at any point.

KAHN: Kaur is at ease working with patients. She's done it a lot. Before going to med school, she worked as a nurse. She knew she wanted to be a doctor, but decided to get a nursing degree right out of high school. She was 17, and her dad had had his first heart attack. She says she was worried about who would provide for her two younger sisters. But in retelling this pivotal point in her life, Kaur as usual prefers to find the lighter side, like how her sisters get tired of her mother-like nagging.

Ms. KAUR: I still do, to an extent, today. My sisters are like don't interfere with my life. It's my life. Like, who are you dating? What are you doing? You know. Like, you're not my mom. Like, I know. I know.

KAHN: Kaur always finds the humor in her story, in her family's story. She doesn't dwell on the pain, loss and regret she may have. Instead, she says, she just feels grateful for growing up in the U.S., and for her future as a new U.S. citizen.

Ms. KAUR: So help me God.

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.