By Raul Zavaleta
The Hayward City Hall was packed. You could overhear people asking questions in different languages as you made your way around the room to pick up the citizenship application. Volunteers at this citizenship workshop manned stations on the first and second floors of the main hall, ready to answer questions.
A young woman named Adriana approached me. The “Hi, my name is ____” sticker on my shirt probably drew more attention than I thought. Born in Colombia, Adriana came to the United States illegally as a teenager. Although she became a permanent resident in 2008, she put off applying for citizenship for years. Having grown up in Colombia, she didn’t have the best grasp of American history and the test intimidated her. She laughs as she remembers her first day at school, “It was awkward. I was trying my best to look American and fit in but inside I was shaking and wanted to cry. I didn’t speak a word of English.”
Growing up in a Spanish-speaking household of immigrants, Adriana’s story is a familiar one. As I overlooked a sample naturalization test, I thought of my father. He left family, friends, and my mother in the 1980s in search of work and never truly learned English. Fast forward 15 years and it took him two attempts before passing the naturalization test.
People from different countries, cultures and backgrounds gathered to take their first steps towards citizenship. Thanks to the East Bay Naturalization Collaborative, organizers of the event, Catholic Charities of the East Bay, members of the collaborative, and the City of Hayward, people like Adriana, who would otherwise not have access to counsel, are offered step-by-step assistance with their application process.
“Workshops like these help members of our community achieve their dream of citizenship,” explained Christopher Martinez, director of legal services at Catholic Charities and the logistics coordinator for the workshop. “We submitted nearly 100 citizenship applications last Saturday. Most of the applicants simply cannot afford access to accredited counsel for citizenship services and without this event, would not take that crucial first step.”
She traveled a long way from her native Colombia, but Adriana never felt out of place. “I came as an immigrant and I’m proud of my roots, but nothing could feel closer to home than here. I’m an American,” said Adriana as she approached the legal review station. With her application submitted, she’s a step closer to the dream of American citizenship.
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