What’s So Good About Citizenship, Anyway?

By Anduriña Espinoza, CARECEN teacher and supporter

It costs money. It costs time. It requires study and taking a test. What’s so good about pursuing U.S. citizenship, anyway? CARECEN students offer insight.*

The answer is largely ideological in nature. They want to have rights and responsibilities.

Beatriz ~Photo by Andy Espinoza

Voting rights is a big draw. All hands went up in the intermediate English class when asked who plans to cast a vote once he or she becomes a citizen. Beatriz says she wants to participate in civil society when she becomes a citizen, just as she did in her home country of the Dominican Republic. The spunky woman is so passionate about politics that, although she could not cast her vote in 2012, she spoke with friends about the election issues and got 15 people to the polls!

At the same time, there is a monetary benefit to the equality citizenship brings to the workplace. Here in DC, government buildings require American citizenship for most workers. Ana, Fidel, and Rosario expressed their hopes for better job prospects if they could be available to work in such government posts.

Maria Sofia ~Photo by Andy Espinoza

For many, gaining U.S. citizenship is a matter of accuracy. While the DMV is not their birthplace, it has become their home. Twenty to thirty years here will do that to you, so they tell me. Maria Sofia (pictured right) has worked at the same restaurant near American University for 20 years. Her reasons for pursuing citizenship are many: voting rights, the chance to return to her native El Salvador for longer periods of time, the prospect of better job opportunities. But mostly, she tells me, the U.S. is her home now.

And those tempting benefits citizens get? Welfare? Medicare? Food stamps? CARECEN students, as is the national trend among immigrants to the U.S.**, did not find such grabs too inspiring. On that, Teresa told me, “Even when I was alone and pregnant with my baby I didn’t use food stamps.”

Basic necessity often brings people to the United States, be it economic need, escape from persecution, or freedom from war. Indeed, many of CARECEN’s students made the journey from their home countries in such dire circumstances—the war in El Salvador in the 1980s being a common cause for many in the community. It is the promise of something greater, however, something more ideological, that prods the men and women at CARECEN to, once here, become Americans. They want a better life, one in which they may have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.

 

*(Daniela Fishbein also delves into some of the reasons student pursue citizenship in her blog post: http://carecendc.org/can-you-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks/)

**Bittle, Scott, and Jonathan Rochkind. “A Place to Call Home: What Immigrants Say Now about
Life in America.” Public Agenda (2010).

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