HRC Volunteers Join in Citizenship Workshops
July 14, 2009
This past weekend, Human Rights Campaign volunteers participated in Ya Es Hora events -- the largest and most comprehensive effort to incorporate Latinos as full participants in the American political process. Its multi-layered integrated campaign provides a comprehensive approach that links naturalization to voter participation and Census enumeration under a single message: “it’s time.”
Ya Es Hora is led by four national organizations and dozens of regional and local organizations including: Univision, the largest Spanish-language media network in the U.S.; Mi Familia Vota Education Fund; National Council of La Raza; National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund; and the Service Employees International Union. Together, the Ya Es Hora partners have a goal to move over 1 million Latino eligible legal permanent residents (LPRs) on the path to U.S. citizenship during 2009 and 2010. Since 2007, this campaign has helped process U.S. citizenship applications for more than 1.4 million Latinos. HRC volunteers in South Florida, Los Angeles and Phoenix assisted Latino/a legal permanent residents - individuals and families - in completing their applications to become US citizens. Some of their reflections on the day are below. We'll also be organizing volunteers for upcoming sessions in Washington, DC, Denver and other cities and you can contact Hyacinth Alvaran for more information. From Cynthia Lewis of Phoenix who helped organize a group of 30 volunteers:
The experience of helping the attendees prepare their paperwork for citizenship was a humbling experience for the volunteers. Not only because of the extent of the information required (how many of us can remember every single trip we have taken out of the country since we have lived in the US) but also the questions we had to ask of seemingly ethical individuals of good moral character was a little uncomfortable for us. I heard many a volunteer (myself included) preface a particularly invasive question with an apology at having to ask a question of this nature. However, the attendees were more than grateful for our time and patience as they dug into the far recesses of their memories for this information, shuffled through countless documents of their own for dates, addresses, addendums, affidavits, etc. I heard countless “thank-you”, “Gracias,” and saw more heartfelt hugs, vigorous handshakes, and Cheshire cat smiles than I can count. These folks sat for hours to get to a volunteer, sat through the application process, and then sat with the lawyers to make sure the forms were in order and all the while they remained grateful, proud and dignified. The volunteers worked hard the entire day – and come lunch time, members of the church provided burritos the size of a forearm! The homemade flour tortillas, rice, beans, chicken, beef, and spicy salsa were fabulous!! Picking one up and eating it provided everyone with a few laughs!!
From Paul Palmer who presented a history and civics lesson at the citizenship workshop in Hollywood, Florida:
To set the stage, the workshop organizer brought American flag lapel pins, red white and blue helium balloons, and a large cake which said "Happy Birthday USA." She introduced us, and after talking a bit about HRC and the specific immigration issues that we're working on right now (i.e. the Uniting American Families Act and eliminating the HIV ban) we asked each person in the room to give their name, their country of origin, and why they believed it was important to become a US citizen. Of the 40 or so people in the class, one was Jamaican, one was from Peru, and a majority were from Colombia, which I thought was interesting. And besides the importance of voting, a few said they had encountered discrimination in the workplace and wanted to be covered by U.S. discrimination law. I opened the class by talking about its mix of people as America's greatest strength, and told the class that America needs them to come here and work with us to make this a better country. We stressed that even before 1776 America was a mix many different groups of people, even though the colonies were part of the British empire -- Swedes and Germans in the Delaware Valley, Dutch in New York and Delaware, French in Louisiana, and Native Americans everywhere. So hearing different languages on the street is a truly American thing, despite what some people say today. After talking about the Constitution, separation of powers, federalist, etc. to emphasize one more time the importance of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we wrote on the board the president's oath of office, where he promises to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States"....not the people, not the buildings, ships or planes, but the Constitution, which is the single most important thing to America. This really seemed to make an impact on people, especially coming from areas where their leaders try to change the Constitution frequently. To sum it up, we quoted George Washington: "The genius of America is not that it is perfect; it's that it strives for perfection." Quite a few people came up afterward and thanked us, and told us that the material we covered allowed them to look at America in a whole new light.
From Andrew Melissinos who helped organize volunteers for the Los Angeles event:
Working at the Ya Es Hora event was such a humbling experience to be able to help people who so earnestly want to be a citizen of the country. Our volunteers handled taking ID photos, distributed materials for the citizenship test and directed participants to where they needed to go and what they needed to do. It was a very proud feeling to wear the HRC logo and be part of one of the largest groups of organized volunteers at the event. We had so many folks walk up and tell us they are glad to see us (HRC) participate at the event which was a wonderful feeling. We're very much looking forward to the next one.