March 7, 2020
It had been almost three months since I was at the offices of Voces de la Frontera. Before Christmas, I had been going to Voces on most Wednesday evenings to help teach the citizenship class. After New Year’s, I suddenly got very busy with caring for somebody at home. I stopped going to Voces because my priorities shifted radically. I let the people there know that I would be MIA for a while. I just didn’t know how long I would be unavailable.
Mary Pat, one of the other instructors at Voces, called me this Wednesday. She sounded desperate. The teachers at Voces were overwhelmed with people who needed assistance to prepare for the citizenship test. Mary Pat asked me if I could come back to help. Honestly, I was okay with not going to Voces. I had a built-in excuse to stay at home. I could always claim that I was too busy with my personal shit, and I would have been right to say that.
I told Mary Pat that I would come to help. It was the right time.
It’s always hard to re-enter an environment after you have left it for a while. The people are a bit different, and the place is a bit different. Voces is always Voces. It always has this grungy, working class feel to it. That never changes, and I actually like it. Voces does not have a classroom for the citizenship course. It only has an open space filled with old tables and rickety chairs, and that space fills quickly when the citizenship class starts. The large room becomes indescribably noisy and chaotic. It is difficult, at best, to teach people in that place, especially if English is not their first language.
However, that is where we do it, and we do it well.
I sat down with four people who needed to work on their N-400. The N-400 is the application for U.S. citizenship. It is a twenty-page document of Byzantine complexity. Nobody sends in their application without consulting with a lawyer. Once a person mails in the N-400, along with a rather large check, they wait for the Department of Homeland Security to tell them when their test will be. We, at Voces, prepare the person for the interview with USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). The four people needed a little help.
I was sitting with Adolfo, Tony, Myra, and Ma.
I know Ma. I have worked with her before. Her name was actually Maria, but on her paperwork from Mexico it says, “Ma”, because apparently in that country “Ma”, and “Maria” are interchangeable. This not so in the United States, and this issue has caused the woman no end of problems. Ma is a homemaker. She doesn’t get out much, which means that her understanding of English is not the best. It’s not her fault. However, any lack of English comprehension will cost her during her interview. She needs to learn English, first and foremost. Nothing else during the test really matters.
Adolfo is a truck driver. He is also from Mexico. His English is good. He will do well on the test. Realistically, the USCIS only cares about English comprehension. They will ask civics questions and they will expect to receive the right answers. But the interviewers are mostly concerned that the potential citizen understands English. That is what drives the process. Adolfo will be okay.
Tony is from the Dominican Republic. His English is sketchy. I tried to explain to him that he really needs to be able to express himself in this language. I know that is hard. I would never be able to take a citizenship test in another language, even though I can speak German. I understand that it is hard for him to explain things and to answer questions in English. I get that. He just needs to practice. He is a smart young man. If he keeps coming to classes at Voces, he will get there. He’ll make it.
Myra is Mexican. She also needs to work on English. She is intelligent and quick. She also just needs to take the time to learn a few things. I have no worries about her passing the test.
I look forward to each of these people going to the interview and passing it with flying colors. I look forward to each of them becoming citizens of the United States, and then becoming politically active in their communities.
We need people like these four.
I am glad to be with them.
It’s good to be back.