Becoming American Citizens

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Reprinted courtesy of: American Libraries Magazine

One of the most democratic institutions in the United States—the library— offers yet one more opportunity: the chance to become an American citizen.

"We are citizens of the greatest nation on earth"
In May 2010, 30 participants from 14 countries took part in a U.S. Naturalization ceremony at the Bentonville Public Library. Many used library resources to help prepare to obtain their U.S. citizenship.
With funds from the American Dream Starts @ your library grant, the library added to its collection more than 400 items designed to improve literacy skills. The library also added free literacy programs: bilingual storytime, international storytime, ESL storytime for elementary school classes, and ESL family night at a local public school. Now 30 recent immigrants are citizens and more are in the preparation process.

“The naturalization ceremony at Bentonville Library was amazing. It was the realization of our dream and the beginning of another dream—to continue our education and improve ourselves. We are excited to vote! This is our American Dream. We are a part of the Land of Opportunity. We are citizens of the greatest nation on earth.” —Francisco and Ingrid Maldonado, new U.S. citizens

A century ago, immigrants came to the Greeley, Colorado, area to work in sugar beet and potato fields. Now immigrants and refugeescwork in the dairies, the meatpacking plant and agriculture.  Approximately 25,000 people in the library’s service area are foreign born; 18,000 are not citizens. 

High Plains Library District offered citizenship classes in four different locations as part of its American Dream Starts @ your library program, including those hosted in a middle school and a public computing center in the clubhouse of a low-income apartment complex.  Forty-five students completed their classes. Ten students have become naturalized citizens, and five students are scheduled to take their tests soon.

"We can get a better job, take care of our kids."  As part of Tucson World RefugeeFEST, more than 50 children and teens obtained their U.S. citizenship at a ceremony hosted at the main library.  The ceremony took place during the library’s American Dream Starts @ your library grant period and was, in addition to literacy classes and outreach programs, made possible by the grant. 

Pima County Public Library serves nearly 1 million people. Twenty-eight percent of people over the age of five speak a language other than English in the home.

Schaumburg Township District Library, a long-time provider of services to immigrants through language and citizenship classes, hosted its first naturalization ceremony in September 2011. The ceremony coincided with Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. 

In a class the following week, American Dream project coordinator Pat Barch offered words of inspiration: “Last week, 73 people became Americans right here. We hope you’ll be among the next group.”

At the time Maria Simon applied for an American Dream grant, she had no idea that it would lead to patrons becoming American citizens (in a literal sense) at her library. The library’s goal had been to improve its collection of materials for adult English-language learners and to reach migrant families with its new “green” bookmobile. 

But on December 10, 2010, 34 people from 18 countries—representing every continent except Antarctica and Australia— gathered at the Wood County District Pub- lic Library to become new United States citizens. They had fulfilled their dream through the American Dream project.
Regular library patron Suzana Todorova Zaneva and her husband Georgi were among the new citizens. The family used to have regular dates at the library. After a while, they started to donate their old ESL books to the library, and Suzana returned to the library to read the children’s classic The Hungry Caterpillar in her native Bulgarian as part of a summer reading program.