Raphael and Enedina are true Americans. They have lived in California for most of their lives and raised five wonderful children, who are all excellent students or have graduated and are now working themselves. Raphael has labored long hours in the strawberry fields, picking the delicious fruit we take for granted in this part of the world. Enedina, in spite of numerous health problems, has worked at home raising the children.
This family is like countless others who have immigrated to this country, dug deep roots and made a better life for their children. They are also unlike most of us who were born here. In the midst of everything else they have done to survive, they have also been studying English and practicing to take their exams to become US citizens, which is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.
I can attest to the painful experience of trying to learn another language as an adult, let alone another country’s history and government. I took Spanish in High School. I took Spanish in College. I attended a class at the Santa Cruz Adult School. I listened to tapes and tried speaking with Spanish-speaking friends. All these attempts ended in dismal failure. Other than rudimentary Spanish, I still can not retain or speak the language.
Raphael and Enedina, on the other hand, not only continued working while studying English, but they also had to memorize and learn more about our country than any native-born American has ever had to do. Not knowing which questions would be asked on their citizenship exams, they had to learn the answers in English and Spanish to more than one-hundred and fifty questions (many with multiple answers, such as the Bill of Rights, The Pledge of Allegiance and the thirteen original colonies)!
How many of us (those who were born and raised in the US) know the answers to these questions? What does the red, white and blue stand for in the American flag? How old must one be to run for the US Senate? What can the Senate do that the House of Representatives cannot do? How many amendments do we now have in the Constitution? What is the Fourth Amendment? What is the Eighth Amendment? Name ten cabinet positions that advise the president. What is the purpose of the United Nations? What are the three ways that bills become laws?
Raphael and Enedina studied year after year for this exam and recently passed on their first attempt! They can now apply for federal jobs, petition for relatives to join them in the U.S. and most importantly, vote. They will now have a say in the country they have made their home, in the country in which they have lived, worked and paid taxes for decades.
Their presence has made this country a better nation. Their presence and accomplishments should inspire us all. They are true Americans. Americans who deeply understand our democratic republic and the constant vigilance and hard work required to keep it a land of freedom and opportunity. They know what it truly takes to be an American citizen.
If you would like to help other hard working individuals and families learn English and/or study for citizenship, contact your local literacy program. Along with Native Americans, immigrants are the backbone that keeps America standing.