What Citizenship Day Means to Me
As Americans, there are certain things that bind us all together regardless of origin, gender, or political affiliation. A love of country, democracy, and a tireless pursuit of equity, justice, and humanity, serve as a unifying force for Latinos and all Americans. These ideals serve as the bedrock of our nation, along with our longstanding history as a nation of immigrants.
Today, we celebrate these values as part of Citizenship Day, something near and dear to my heart, having helped my own parents navigate through the citizenship process.
My mother immigrated from Sinaloa, Mexico in 1970. Over two decades later, she began the citizenship process and took the oath of allegiance to this country in a few months. After paying a $200 filing fee and completing free citizenship classes in Southeast Los Angeles, my mother was able to gain her citizenship. Her joy at becoming a United States citizen soon turned to determination as she would subsequently go on to earn her GED diploma and associate's degree, and work as a preschool teacher and licensed childcare provider for over a decade.
Since becoming a citizen in 1991, my mother has not taken a single local, state or federal election for granted -- whether deciding on a local library bond in our city or electing a new President, my mom has consistently taken pride in her right to vote and taught her children to do the same. Every Election Day, my siblings and I can count on a group text from “Mami” saying “Ya votaste? (Did you vote?).'' Interestingly, this experience speaks directly to the many focus group studies that continue to place women as some of the most trusted messengers within the Latino community.
My father had a different experience in his naturalization journey. He immigrated from Zacatecas, Mexico when he was just 18 years old. Due to a steadily increasing naturalization fee and the various complexities of meeting expanded application requirements, it was not until 2018, at the age of 66, that my father was finally able to become a citizen. My siblings and I will never forget the 2018 midterm elections when my father proudly wore his “I Voted” sticker until the glue wore out, eventually placing it in his keepsake drawer.
There are many who reference “waiting in line” when it comes to immigration or perpetuate the myth that immigrants simply go from undocumented to citizen in the blink of an eye. This is incorrect. It is important to clarify that the process to gain legal permanent residence is long and arduous, fraught with many hurdles and roadblocks along the way. This difficult road is one which my parents are all too familiar, having waited sixty years between the two of them to gain their respective citizenship.
It was during my first stint at NALEO Educational Fund in 2009 when I came to understand that building Latino political power and ensuring the betterment of our community was not simply about becoming a citizen, voting, and being vocal about our political views. Building power also means ensuring that everyone in our community is counted in the decennial Census. Ensuring a full and accurate count is part of the work I do because of my love of country and my desire to see to it that nobody in our community is left in the shadows. This is why, when I rejoined NALEO Educational Fund earlier this year as Director of National Census Programs, it all came full circle for me.
The 2020 Census is the most important in my lifetime and will determine the allocation of more than $800 billion in federal funding for our communities. Census formulas determine political representation and funding for programs like Title 1 Grants to Local Education Agencies, which promote parent-teacher collaboration, healthcare initiatives, school meal programs, among many others.
For me, Citizenship Day is much more than just a trending hashtag, it is a celebration of my parents, the two people who taught me what love of country and civic duty is all about.
As a mother, a proud Latina, and the daughter of the most patriotic American immigrant parents I know, I feel it is my civic duty to help others - whether that means assisting eligible lawful permanent resides with the citizenship process, ensuring my friends and family vote in every election, or making myself and my daughter count in the 2020 Census.
To truly build lasting power and ensure prosperity for the next generation and beyond, we must all step up and answer the call to be seen, heard, and counted!
Happy Citizenship Day mi gente!