Erie, Pa . — After taking his oath of citizenship late last year, Fidel Bahati walked straight out of the Erie federal courthouse and into the offices of the Army Reserves to enlist.
“God bless America. I am an American now, and I will now serve my country who has provided me so much opportunity to better myself,” he said.
Bahati, who arrived in this northwestern Pennsylvania city seven years ago after spending nearly five years in a refugee camp in Kenya, will now serve the Army part-time while studying for a degree in electrical and computer-engineering technology at Penn State’s Behrend campus. “It’s a double major. It is hard. My first semester I had a 4.0, my second semester the same, this time I might only get a 3.9,” he said.
His dream? “Work at General Electric of course,” he said of the company that has been Erie’s largest employer for over 100 years.
Bahati’s work ethic, drive to succeed, connection to community and willingness to assimilate and serve his country are all linked to the virtues of American exceptionalism. Seven years ago he spoke not a word of English. Born in the Congo, his family was taken by rebels and disappeared before his eyes. He had never left Africa, rode on a plane, been to a foreign country or even seen a snowflake until he moved to Erie in 2010 when he was 21, chosen by a local resettlement program.
Last week there were snowflakes piled nearly six feet high all around him. “Erie is my hometown now. Many people try to encourage me to go big cities like New York, but I don’t want to. I have roots here, the people here are family, they have treated me well,” he said, beaming with pride.
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