That’s what the handful of students who take U.S. citizenship class every Friday at Piedmont Hotel on Maple Street are seeking.
“I feel good,” said Marcela Colbert, who recently became a citizen. She now visits the class to encourage the 10 or so community members who practice their English and civics knowledge.
“There’s no stress, and I feel comfortable,” said Colbert, originally from Peru.
To seek naturalization, applicants must hold a green card for five years, be able to read, write and speak English and have knowledge of U.S. history and government. To get a green card, applicants must be sponsored by a family member who is a citizen or an employer.
Graciela Hernandez, who works at a small Cornelia business with her husband, also earned citizenship recently.
“We have more benefits, and we can vote,” said Hernandez, originally from Mexico. “A lot of immigrants want to participate in the democracy. There are also fine opportunities and better jobs if you are a citizen.”
The students, who work in Gainesville and Hall County businesses, take time on Fridays to practice with Jo Ann Carter, an adult education professor with Lanier Technical College. Carter said she is inspired every week.
“How many of us, who are privileged, could move to a new place where we don’t understand the language and customs, work below our qualifications and pay grade?” she said. “They do all of it while learning a new language, working two or three jobs and raising children.”
Jose Rondan, who came to the U.S. in 1990 from Mexico, worked in California but came to Gainesville to be near his brother.
“Citizenship has so many benefits,” said Rondan, who said he wants to better provide for his children who were born U.S. citizens.
The women in the group said they are looking forward to being citizens with their husbands. Hailing from Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras and Peru, they’re looking for better jobs and a lifestyle beyond the permanent resident green card permit.
“It seems so hard, but nothing is hard if you want to do it,” said Rocio Lopez, who works at the Chattahoochee Country Club. “I’ve learned English on my jobs around Gainesville, and each place has been supportive, especially now with the CCC and getting my citizenship.”
Several of the students earned high school diplomas and even college degrees in their home country but must start at the bottom in the U.S. when learning a new language. Lopez said she is looking forward to pursuing a GED with Lanier Tech.
“I didn’t finish high school in Mexico, but I had a certificate in computers, so I’m looking forward to pursuing a GED here,” she said. “It’s much better to have a GED, and there are better opportunities to find jobs.”
When she first came to the U.S., Lopez was undocumented and didn’t know any English. Now with a green card and on her way through the naturalization process, Lopez is proud. She smiled at the school pictures of her five children pasted onto her citizenship notebook.
“When I got here, I was illegal, and you can’t do anything, not even look for jobs,” she said. “Now, I can feel confident and free and comfortable.”