By Marlana Ward
The right to vote is one of our most important rights as American citizens but also one that many people take for granted. Whether people believe their vote does not make a difference or they just do not take an interest in the election process, failing to exercise the right to vote is a dangerous decision that affects everyone in our country and beyond. Prayoon Royston is one Johnson County resident who understands the importance of voting and how precious that right is.
Prayoon is originally from the country of Thailand which remains controlled by a monarchy. Under a monarchy, the citizens of Thailand are never given the option of voting for their choice of leaders. The people are ruled over without the representation within government that we as citizens of a republic receive.
Leaving Thailand in 1975, Prayoon lived in several different locations before settling in Johnson County in 1984. She has spent 30 years as a hard-working, active community member but never had the right to vote. Ive paid taxes and worked here for 30 years, Prayoon explained. At every election I would hear talk of the elections but could not vote, she said because of her lack of United States citizenship.
Prayoon worked at the Levi Strauss factory in Mountain City for 13 years. During these years, she formed strong friendships and bonds with those she worked alongside. I was always known for singing Happy Birthday whenever someone was celebrating, she shared. Even today a car will pull up to the drive-through and it will be someone I worked with letting me know its their birthday and I will sing to them.
When Levis shut its doors, the employees were given a severance package to help them seek other opportunities. Prayoon decided to use hers to make her dream of owning her own restaurant a reality. I had always dreamed of having a restaurant, Prayoon remembered. It doesnt matter if someone is rich or poor, everyone has to eat. When people eat my food, it makes them happy. That makes me happy!
Prayoons entry into the world of Johnson County small business owners was made even more special by the fact that her establishment was the first ethnic cuisine available in our county. Monsoons Thai and Exotic Foods brought a wide array of Asian cuisine to our area that before one had to travel out of town to enjoy. Even while continuing to contribute more and more into the local community, Prayoon was still without the right to vote.
One of the most important achievements on the path to citizenship is to pass the US Citizenship Test. The test to become a citizen takes not only a great investment of time, but also a non-refundable investment of almost $700 is required to even attempt the test. The test is very hard. There are 96 questions that go all the way back to 1776, Prayoon said while describing her citizenship journey. I took the test once but did not pass. All I do is work. I was given a cd to help study when I could.
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By Marlana Ward