By Chad Koenen
As he peaks his head around the corner of the kitchen, Binesh Narayan’s laughter fills an otherwise quiet hallway at Willow Creek.
The breakfast rush is over, but the work continues for Narayan, who is busy joking around with staff members and a few residents who gather in the dining room area at the assisted and independent living facility. Even though Narayan’s face is covered with a mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one can’t help but see his covered smile shine through as he shares the story of his journey from the country of Fiji to the tiny town of Henning.
Narayan’s journey across the globe began after his mother passed away. The two were very close and Narayan was looking for a change when his sister applied for a green card to allow the siblings to come to America.
“I didn’t even apply, my sister applied for me and she didn’t even get in,” he said. “I always tease her that only the lucky ones get in.”
He originally moved to Seattle, Wash. and worked at a variety of jobs, including at a food distributor where he sold spices to restaurants. He eventually became roommates with Travis Ferrell, who was originally from Battle Lake, but when the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest, both Ferrell and Narayan lost their jobs. Ferrell moved back to the Battle Lake area and told Narayan he was welcomed to join him if he was looking for a change.
“Travis said if you wanted to come and start something here in Minnesota you could, but it is going to be cold,” said Narayan.
He moved to Minnesota in September of 2020 and since that time he has moved into Clement Manor in Henning.
“People here are very different (from Seattle) and very nice,” he said.
One of the biggest differences Narayan identified was in the type of people in the two communities. For example, Narayan said Minnesota people seem to really care about everyone and want to help out however they can, while that simply wasn’t the case in Seattle.
While he had been in the country for approximately 10 years, Narayan was still just in America on a green card when he began the process of becoming a citizen in June of 2020.
“Last year I said what the heck I’ll apply for citizenship,” he said.
Narayan thought about becoming a United States citizen for quite some time, but was hesitant to do so for a concern of giving up his citizenship in Fiji. Once he learned that he could be a dual citizen of both countries, Narayan began the expansive process of becoming a citizen of the United States.
Once he had photographs and fingerprints taken, Narayan was tested on his knowledge of United States history and his ability to speak English. Since he lived in Seattle when he began the process, some of this work required him to fly back to the West Coast.
Less than two weeks ago, Narayan traveled to St. Paul, Minn. where he performed the oath ceremony to become an official United States citizen. He returned to Henning a short time later where he now resides and works as a cook at Willow Creek. He also works at a gas station in Battle Lake part-time, as he was never one for sitting down.
One of the things he is looking forward to the most as a new United States citizen is having the opportunity to vote in the next election, as well as travel more easily to see his family and sister back in Fiji.
“If my vote can make a difference why not,” said Narayan.