Why citizenship? Why now?
By Sarah Crosky, NAIP AmeriCorps member
Almost six months ago, I attended my first citizenship workshop on my second day with Project Citizenship. This abrupt initiation gave way to an intensive introduction to all things citizenship and beyond. I now know that I joined for all the right reasons—to be of service to a vulnerable population, to use my bilingualism to increase access to information and services, and to share a space with other hard-working, all-in, non-profit professionals. My contribution to the growth of naturalized citizens in Massachusetts, however, is not without personal growth.
While I have lived abroad and been struck by the privilege of being a white American, serving at Project Citizenship has been an even more humbling experience: I am opening my eyes to the privilege and responsibility of being an American in my own country. I have learned of the countless barriers to citizenship and have reaffirmed the positivity and growth that comes with providing others with (the sometimes rarely received) equal respect and attention regardless of their language ability, country of origin, disability or cultural differences.
At the end of 2016, we began asking our new clients a big question: Why? Why do you wish to become a citizen of the United States?
I get to ask this question all day long as an AmeriCorps member because I am at the front lines of client interaction. My colleagues and I answer the phones, screen walk-ins, and greet and prepare clients for the long yet rewarding process of acquiring U.S. citizenship.
Regardless of the repetitive eligibility screening questions we ask, I always lean into this one question. I’ve gotten answers that reflect an urgency I cannot imagine, joy and patriotism for this country I may lack myself sometimes, resolve that there is no safe possibility of returning home, and determination for a better future with a reunified family. The answers make me think of the journeys that these individuals from all reaches- distant and next door- have undertaken to just arrive at the point of being eligible for U.S. citizenship.
I’d like to share some responses with you:
Because, I know that I’ll have my rights – to vote. I’ve been here for almost 10 years. I love this country, and my kids, they’re born here. So I feel like part of me is from here, too. I belong here.
-38, Dominican Republic
I’ve been here forever and I wouldn’t ever want to not be able to live in the same country as my daughter.
I came here a few years ago. I know all of the traditions and customs of the U.S. I have established a business and received loans. I want to continue to strive for success.
I want to vote and I would be happy if my mother could attend my graduation. Right now she is still in Ethiopia.
Because my biggest dream is to become an American citizen. My country is very problematic and there are persecutions…I am already 71 years old.
–71, El Salvador
I have lived here since I was five. I have two sons I would like to raise here and I would not want anything to happen to me based on my residency alone.
My great grandparents from Poland and Hungary took oaths to remain in and serve this country. They suffered through the Great Depression, yet they remained. Their children served in WWII, and some of their siblings who never came to the U.S. died in the Holocaust. Again, the worth (and the why) of citizenship is incalculable.
At Project Citizenship, we strive to reduce the barriers around language, information, disability and costs for those who are motivated to take this step. We are reminded every day of the importance and responsibility of this milestone in the journeys of many immigrants.
If I could ask my great grandparents why they came to the United States, I think they would say, “for you.”
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve immigrants today, so that they may live out their hopes without fear tomorrow.