Dasha Kem came to Arizona years ago, adopted from an impoverished area in Russia, enjoying life with her family and acceptance from her Scottsdale Christian soccer family.
But there she stood two weeks ago, among about 60 people at the Phoenix field office for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, ready to officially become an American.
“Everything and anything stood out,” the 5-foot, 100-pound, 17-year-old sophomore said. “It was amazing to hear, taking an oath, hearing about my rights, protections, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms.”
It had never really hit her what it means until she was trying to obtain her driver’s license last year.
When she came to America in 2003, adopted by Gwendy and David Kem and brought to the Valley, the family figured she automatically became a United States citizen through the Child Citizen Act of 2000.
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The Motor Vehicle Division, however, threw up a red flag.
“We had to go back and really go after immigration,” Gwendy said. “It’s taken a complete year. In the end, we had to get my father involved to help us. He was able to get (Congressman) Trent Franks to help us. Congressman Franks helped us complete the process.
“After working that hard to get through it, you appreciate your citizenship more than ever.”
The day her daughter took the oath, Gwendy was moved by all of the people from all walks of life, speaking different languages, the tears and cheers, in the room.
“People are there for the moment, even if they’re not getting their citizenship that day,” Gwendy said.
Dasha was coached up the day she was sworn in by SCA assistant coach Kevin Nutt, who is from England and obtained his U.S., citizenship in 1983.
“My coach said, ‘I’ve been through this process, watch what happens, don’t take it for granted,’ ” Kem said. “I was really appreciative of that.”
Kem has an older brother, the biological parents of the Kems, who is now a student at Grand Canyon University. During a game attended by her brother, she jumped the short fence to the stands and embraced him.
Dasha said both of her parents died, which put her into an orphanage deep in Siberia. There is no documentation of how they died or when they died, she said. She only remembers bits and pieces of Russia through photos.
“When they sent a picture of Dasha, that was the one God intended for our family,” Gwendy said.
They finished the paperwork in Moscow, 10 days after arriving to adopt Dasha.
When she entered her freshman year at SCA last year, she tried out for the soccer team. She wasn’t the most gifted player on the field. But her efforts and personality impressed the coaches to keep her on varsity.
Scottsdale Christian (11-3-1), a fourth seed, opens the 3A Conference state tournament Friday against No. 13 Thatcher at 5 p.m., at Red Mountain Park.
“She had enough guts to try out for the team in the first place,” Nutt said. “At that age with her background, that was a big deal to do that.”
Nutt and head coach Mike Philipp said it was hard for Dasha to fit into the school right away
“That’s one of the reasons why being on the soccer team in the community is so important to her,” Nutt said. “The girls have really supported her. She’s got great parents. They help her as much as possible. As a young lady, it can take a while to get acclimated to an American lifestyle.
“I can relate to her because I became an American citizen. It was huge. It’s a big deal. I got all of my immediately family here eventually. I told her she had to take in everything she experienced. I think she’ll remember that for a lifetime.”
SCA teammates gave her cards, welcoming her, after Kem officially became a U.S. citizen.
Senior goal keeper Grace Schreyer noticed the extra step in Kem’s walk the day she became an American citizen.
“It was so cool to see her finally become part of this country,” Schreyer said. “To see her the way she plays on the field, encouraging everyone, she’s a great part of this team.”
Kem said she is appreciative to be a full American.
“It’s nice to have that opportunity,” she said.
Kem wants to go into the military after high school.
Now as a U.S. citizen, she can fight for her country.
“It’s been my dream for a long time,” she said.