The Path to Citizenship

Charlotte with Honorable Judge Robert Walker

Charlotte with Honorable Judge Robert Walker

On Thursday, April 4th, I had the honor of standing with thirteen other individuals at the Martin County Courthouse. Together we represented 11 countries of origin across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia, and together we were sworn in as brand new US citizens.

My path toward citizenship started almost twenty years ago, when my family first moved to the US while I was still a child. My road is only one possible way among many, but all are long journeys both literally and culturally.

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Martin County Courthouse

That moment in front of the judge arrived after many years of learning a new language, a new culture, a new legal and educational system, a different employment system, and finding all new friends while too often leaving friends and family behind.

Becoming a citizen can be a difficult process, especially for anyone who struggles with English. Each step along the way involves high fees and lengthy, highly specific paperwork. The final test comes during an interview, where I had to demonstrate my English language skills by reading and writing a sentence, and my civics knowledge by answering ten out of a possible hundred questions.

I was one of the lucky ones. When I arrived in the US, I already spoke passable English from going to school in Finland. I had verifiable documentation such as a birth certificate and passport. Many immigrants struggle with longer uphill battles than the one I faced.

Immigrants in our region who wish to improve their skills in order to become naturalized – the immigration term for citizen – can attend free English language and citizenship classes through Adult Basic Education. Here at Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota, we are happy to provide a tutor who can assist as well.

Naturalization Certificate

Naturalization Certificate

Citizenship is a huge and worthwhile learning goal, and having gone through the process myself I find myself admiring the many immigrants who reached this milestone. It wasn’t easy, but we made it. As Woodrow Wilson once said:

“This is the only country in the world which experiences this constant and repeated rebirth… This country is constantly drinking strength out of new sources by the voluntary association with it of great bodies of strong men and forward-looking women out of other lands.”

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