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Mike Patel, left, and his son Kenny Patel stand Wednesday in the Exxon gas station they own at Halls Ferry and North Frontage Road. The family moved to the U.S. about ten years ago and plan to become full-fledged citizens in February. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)
Mike Patel, left, and his son Kenny Patel stand Wednesday in the Exxon gas station they own at Halls Ferry and North Frontage Road. The family moved to the U.S. about ten years ago and plan to become full-fledged citizens in February. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Immigrant family to become citizens

Published 12:00am Friday, July 4, 2014

The Patel family is proud to be American, and today is the final Independence Day before they become U.S. citizens. 

That happens in February, said Kenny Patel, whose family moved halfway across the globe when he was teenager.

“I’m happy, of course I am,” said Patel, now 24. “Everything was smooth. I’m happy that the government gave us a permanent residence.”

When he was 15, his family moved to Vicksburg and most of them took Americanized names.

“It was quite exciting going to a different country,” he said.

After graduating from Vicksburg High School, Patel began helping his father, Mike, and his mother, Kim, run the Exxon gas station and convenience store at Halls Ferry and North Frontage roads.

In India, they also own chemical and textile companies, and Kenny Patel recently returned from a 45-day trip to his home country.

“After high school, I wanted to go into the family business,” he said.

Members of the family that came from one of India’s major metro cities came to Vicksburg about nine years ago.

“Ahmedabad is the city, and Gujarat is the state, like Mississippi,” said Mike Patel.

The city of Ahmedabad has a population of about 6 million people — about twice that of the entire state of Mississippi and more than any U.S. city other than New York. Gujarata, which is slightly larger than Mississippi, is home to more than 60 million people.

For comparison, the population of the entirety of the Southeast is about 65 million.

India is the world’s second most populous country behind China, though it is only about a third the size of the United States. Overcrowding has been a major problem for years, leaving many Indians seeking homes abroad.

“It’s a clean life here. You can make your own life down here,” Kenny Patel said.

Because of a flooded job market, it is difficult for young Indians to get work in their home country. Almost a quarter of young Indians are without jobs, according to a government study released this week.

“It’s tough for them right now,” Kenny Patel said.

His sister, Zalak Patel, is studying pharmacy at Ole Miss.

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