Rita AmirAhmadi, 44, an artist living in Ballantyne, became a U.S. citizen in October 2010 and voted for the first time in the November election.
She moved to the United States from Iran years ago for freedom of religion and freedom of speech, she said.
"I thought of myself as being an American for a long time, because I've been here since 1994," said AmirAhmadi, who described the process of becoming a citizen as a lengthy, painful and expensive process. "But I was excited about being a citizen so I can vote."
The United States is her home, said AmirAhmadi, and she has no intention of returning to her former homeland. "I am a patriot because I chose this country in adulthood," she said. "I knew what I was doing and I knew what I wanted."
Never miss a local story.
In Iran, "the environment in the house was totally different than the environment outside," said AmirAhmadi. "We had our freedom inside the house, but every time you would go outside you had to change your mindset to adjust yourself to the outside world."
When she applied for a visa to leave Iran, she needed to present to Iranian officials an invitation from someone in another country and explain how she would support herself there. Although she had family in Germany, AmirAhmadi chose the United States.
AmirAhmadi's brothers, who previously had emigrated from Iran to the U.S., issued her the invitation.
"Europe is old-world. You still have some limits. Coming to the U.S. is entirely different; you're coming to a world that is new," said AmirAhmadi.
"Iranian people talk about old Iran, but you have to think about the future. People get so hung up in the past that they don't think about the future as much.
"The U.S. is a baby, and there is not much history. The history the U.S. has is based on getting better, not getting worse. For (Iran) it was getting worse and worse. We started as a high power and went down to a little country with hardly any freedom."
Events in Iran's past, as well as her own, are part of why she left, said AmirAhmadi. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 resulted in the establishment of an Islamic republic, in which clerics gained political power and began enforcing laws based on religious beliefs, she said.
"The new generation was born after or during the revolution, so these children grew up with this system. I didn't," said AmirAhmadi. "I was 13 when the revolution happened, so I was already in the process of developing my own thoughts. When I was 18, everything started to move toward religion."
AmirAhmadi said she had hoped for change leading up to the 2009 contested election in Iran, but ultimately was disappointed in the result.
"I was checking Twitter every five seconds. I was excited that something was starting to happen. I was wishing it would end up being the change everybody was hoping for. I was hoping for freedom and less religious persecution," said AmirAhmadi. "If anything happens, it's going to be more democratic."
When she came to the United States, AmirAhmadi first lived in Florida with her brothers who had come before her. She then moved to attend Louisiana State University, then transferred to the University of Maryland.
She became an architectural lighting designer in Philadelphia but lost her job right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"I had a project working on courthouse lighting design. When you go to a courthouse, they send your profile to the FBI for clearance, and post 9-11 I didn't get cleared," said AmirAhmadi. "Sixty percent of the (company's) jobs were government jobs, and I couldn't do any of them."
After losing her job, she moved to Charlotte to be near a brother, and she has lived here since.
AmirAhmadi was a theatrical lighting designer but had to change her artistic focus. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2003. By 2006, vertigo affected her balance and her ability to climb ladders, hang lighting fixtures and work in her field.
Now, as an artist, AmirAhmadi does photography and pottery. She creates pottery and manages the open studio as a volunteer at the Morrison YMCA on Monday and Wednesday afternoons.
She finds herself having to create larger pieces because the slight shaking of her hands due to MS prevents her from making more delicate and fragile works.
"There's a saying in pottery that the clay has to talk to you, so I listen. When I'm working on a piece, I let the clay talk to me," she said.
AmirAhmadi makes a point of staying positive and making positive choices.
"I try to keep myself healthy, do my exercises and take my medications on time. I try to keep up with what I have to do to maintain my life," said AmirAhmadi.