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Chinese immigrant to vote in first election Tuesday

Chengyi Pan, a 97-year-old immigrant from Tianjin, China, will vote for the first time in November's election. Pan, a retired physics teacher and middle school vice-principal, came to the United States in 2009 after the death of her husband and was granted citizenship in September.

Chengyi Pan, an immigrant hailing from Tianjin, China, became a U.S. citizen late last month and is now preparing to vote in her very first election.

At age 97.

"If I become a citizen of the U.S., I want to be a good citizen and to follow the democratic way," Pan said in an interview Tuesday at Sauer Memorial Home, where she's resided since last summer. She spoke through her daughter, Ting Ni, because she speaks little English.

"Because the U.S. is the best country in the world, if I become a member of this country, I want to do all I can to continue to help this country," she said.

Pan, retired after years as a physics teacher and middle school vice-principal, came to the U.S. in September 2009, after the death of her husband earlier that year.


She stayed with a son in Indiana for less than a year before moving to Winona in June 2010 to live with her daughter, Ni, a Saint Mary's University history professor who retired in May.

But Pan's connections to the U.S. had begun to form much earlier.

During World War II, she remembers American pilots dropping from planes boxes of supplies — such as toothpaste and chocolate — into her village.

An American woman, whose name the family still doesn't know, paid for her older sister through a church program and even sent clothes for her to wear.

Pan attended a top Chinese university in the 1940s, where she studied physics. Many of her teachers were trained in America and Europe and learned a lot about the U.S.

"Many Americans have been friends of Chinese people for a long time," she explained.

After her move, she applied for citizenship as soon as she was able and became an official citizen after taking her oath of citizenship during a Sept. 30 ceremony.

Now, she's counting down the days to Nov. 4.


Ni is working to help get her all the facts she needs to make informed decisions on Election Day, though Pan knows which way she's leaning.

"Both parties are good parties, but I like the Democratic Party," she said.

But to Pan, the day's about much more than that.

"I feel I'm honored to be a citizen and to be able to vote in the American election," she said.

Because she realizes the great significance of that right. American citizens must pay attention to global issues, she said — because the country's responsibilities extend beyond its borders.

"American elections are not just about the U.S.," she said. "They're about the world."

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