For some, the Fourth of July jostles memories of hot dogs on the grill and dad hanging the flag on the front porch, or sparklers and fireworks against a black-ink sky.

But Minh Luong, a Vietnamese refugee who became an American citizen just last month, views the significance of the Fourth of July as one more in a parade of items he memorized for the United States citizenship test, his ticket to a job and the future.

"I came here for a new life. I saw no future without citizenship," said Luong, who has changed his name to Charlie Long.

"I miss my friends. Back before communism I had a lot of fun. I miss my chickens . . . , " Long added while glancing around the tidy living room of his family's Mount Rainier home. "The land was so flat you could ride your bicycle forever without losing your breath."

"But here is so free, you make up your future and new life. You can own a business, work or be a bum. You don't have to worry about the government buying it back.

"Saigon was my real home. Now I say, this is my sweet home."

Long, his parents and four younger brothers left Vietnam in 1980.

After a year staying with relatives in Hong Kong, the family finally received sponsorship from a former American Army man, and emigrated to the United States.

The Washington Monument was the first sight Long recalls seeing. "I thought what good was it: A big stone with no house or rooms," he recalled. The ketchup and mustard on his first McDonald's cheeseburger nauseated him, he said.

Freshman year at Northwestern High School was especially confusing for Long. Besides the girls sitting closer than they ever had in Saigon, he said, he often could not remember how to say "hello."

Long said he frequently gazed at his desktop in school, pretending to be busy so his teacher would not call on him. "But I knew I had to keep trying," he said. "So I did. This country is free, people won't kill you if you ask."

Today, he is the first member of his family to get his American citizenship and he works as an on-call cashier at Sears, paying his way at Prince George's Community College as a business and computer science major.

"I try and try and try until I get it. If they tell me I need more {education}, I'll go back to college," he said.

His bike eventually was replaced with a lime green mid-1970s model Pontiac. New Wave music and DC-101's "Greaseman" are new diversions. Although the "fireworks" of the Vietnam War will always remain lodged in his childhood memory, Long said, he is looking forward to the red, white and blue type.

"White is for purity, blue is for justice and red is for courage. A lot of American people don't know that," he said.