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Manatee woman: Independence Day holds new meaning

BRADENTON BEACH

Saowalux “May” Karpthip knows how July 3 is a big deal at the Beachhouse Restaurant.

Yet the bubbly waitress, a native of Thailand, has probably felt the fun and fireworks were for her American clientele, not her.

“I want to be a citizen,” said Karpthip, 39. “That’s my dream.”

This July 3 her dream comes true.

Saowalux Karpthip (SOW-wuh-lok Kop-THEEP) will become a United States citizen Friday at Disney World.

She will take the oath in an elaborate ceremony along with hundreds of others randomly chosen by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service at the Magic Kingdom.

Magic, indeed.

“Best day of my life,” Karpthip said in anticipation. “Until next week, my heart every day will go, Boom! Boom! Boom! I’m very, very lucky.”

That she is.

Karpthip was jobless and still in Thailand a decade ago when she won a TV game show jackpot.

It wasn’t a fortune — about $30,000 — but enough to change her life.

“I wondered, what do I do?” she said. “Everybody said, ‘Try to go to America. America is good.’”

So Karpthip did, arriving in the United States in 2001. She got a green card, worked in a Thai restaurant, married, divorced and ultimately settled here as a single mom in 2005.

“I decided I want to stay here. I want to vote,” she said. “I want to take care of my daughter, just like normal people.”

Folks at the Beachhouse gave her an assist toward that goal — and then some.

The restaurant is picking up the tab for Karpthip and her 6-year-old daughter, Irada, to enjoy the momentous weekend at Disney.

“Our citizenship is something we take for granted, but what she’s done is definitely a big thing for her,” said Mike Shannon, whose grandmother was an Irish immigrant. “We were born in the right place at the right time. We just got lucky.”

So has Karpthip.

First the TV game show. Now the Disney ceremony.

“She’s one of those people who wins things,” Shannon said.

Karpthip took the citizenship test April 30 in Tampa and passed — with a big assist from Shannon.

“When I studied, I read, but I didn’t understand,” she said. “So I asked my manager to help. He made it easy for me.”

Shannon would work with her daily — 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there — on government, geography and history covered in the citizenship test kit.

He’d done the same for waitress Giang Huong Thi Geringer, a Vietnamese who became a citizen.

“It was fun helping May,” Shannon said. “If nothing else, trying to teach her how say the words like judicial, constitution and a few others. She has difficulty with some of our words and I have difficulty with her language. I still can’t pronounce her first name.”

Shannon would quiz Karpthip on which presidents were in office during certain periods of American history.

“While we were doing this, staff members would go, ‘Hmmm. That’s a good question,’” he said.

One Beachhouse staffer paying attention was Kathryn Kirkland, who feels a connection with Karpthip.

The 21-year-old hostess was adopted from the Ukraine at 11 and is also studying to become a citizen.

“We talk a lot about our cultures, how we came here for this great opportunity, and how we feel very blessed to be here,” Kirkland said. “People in my country have dreams to be here and I’m fulfilling that dream. I feel so American.”

Karpthip does, too.

“I did it. I did it,” she said. “I love America.”

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