Immigrants in central Iowa have new option for U.S. citizenship courses
The mature students arrived at the Latinx Immigrants of Iowa building in Des Moines late in the evening. They enrolled in their class to help them prepare for and hopefully pass the US citizenship test. They adjusted their masks over their noses and mouths and took out their notebooks and other study materials.
Teacher Raquel Medina has set up the whiteboard in front of the class. The desks were rearranged that day to create a circle for the students to see each other.
Latinx Immigrants of Iowa first launched these courses to help Latinos in the state feel empowered.
“We know there’s a need for spaces, you know, where people can actually go at their own pace. And it’s really tough,” Medina said of the US 100 test. Questions. “They need to know everything. And a lot of people, they’re very limited in English. And they need to feel confident doing it, you know?”
Medina teaches the class half in Spanish and half in English. Most students will need to take the exam in English. And that, she said, is one of the hardest parts of the test: overcoming the language barrier.
In addition to learning new phrases and words, students also need to correctly pronounce the names of state and national leaders, which is difficult because letters in Spanish make different sounds than in English.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services cites a person exempt from taking the exam in English if that person is 50 years old when applying for naturalization and has held a green card for 20 years. There is another exception for people who are 55 years old at the time of their application and who have had a green card for 15 years.
Only three of them meet the conditions to take the exam in Spanish. These students work with Medina and a few Spanish speaking students from Grinnell College to prepare for the in-depth test.
Medina emigrated from Mexico and passed the US citizenship test herself. She said that the simple fact that the teacher was once in their shoes served as an inspiration for her students.
“They can relate to that, you know? They can say, ‘Oh, okay, I guess I can do that. I could be like her.’ My English is not like … I have an accent. And English is not like my mother tongue. So they can see each other a bit in class and I think it’s stimulating when they can s ‘identify with the other person, and it’s a space where they feel good, ”she said.
Medina doesn’t just teach the simple answers to exam questions, she also discusses the benefits of being a U.S. citizen with her students.
“The advantage of being an American citizen is that you are now part of the democracy of a country,” she said. “That’s why we moved here, you know? We dream of America. We dream of it. That’s why we call it the American Dream. And the democracy that we see here is so appealing because in most of our countries, we don’t look at that. “
Director Jose Alvarado said there are currently around 50 people on the waiting list for the 12-week course. Once it has a better understanding of people’s schedules, the organization also wants to add English and computer lessons.