Last year I had the honor of interviewing my former student Dhajanna. Dhajanna attended citizenship classes all year long at the Galena Park Branch Library. However, on November 7, she took and passed her naturalization interview making her one step closer to becoming a US citizen, and as such, no longer a student in my class.
During the interview, we were joined by HCPL’s Program Production Specialist, John Schaffer, better known on our social media as Curbside Larry.
The interview was conducted in English and Spanish, but I translated the entire conversation into English for the sake of this blog.
Silvia: First of all, I want to congratulate you Dhajanna on passing your citizenship test this month. I don't know if you remember me mentioning it, but that was on my birthday.
Dhajanna: Oh yes, congratulations.
Silvia: Thank you Dhajanna. I obviously knew you were going to pass because you worked so hard in class, but I figured you’d have good luck because it was also my birthday. But, let's get to our interview. How do you feel after your naturalization interview?
Dhajanna: During the interview I was feeling a little nervous [she starts shaking and makes a sound effect along with her gesture that makes us both laugh] but I am happy that I passed my exam.
Silvia: What made you apply for US citizenship?
Dhajanna: I applied because... the truth? [She looks at me and laughs nervously.] I wanted my passport.
Silvia: To travel?
Dhajanna: Yes, because being Venezuelan, they stop you a lot. They ask you a lot of questions. They throw you aside and I didn't like that. So being an American is like a... [she pauses trying to find the words] for me it was something personal, like “I made it.” It is a goal that I wanted to feel American. To be able to say, “yes, I'm from here.”
Silvia: How did you find out about the classes here at the library?
Dhajanna: I told a friend that I wanted to be a citizen, but didn't know much English. She told me I could get help at the library in Galena Park. So I came, and sure enough, I did.
Silvia: What was your favorite resource that the library provided you to prepare for the naturalization interview?
Dhajanna: The textbook. I really liked the textbook because it makes it easier for you to study. The truth is, and I told my husband, studying with this book makes it totally easier for you, because it teaches you as if you were in the first grade.
Silvia: So, it makes it a little simpler for you?
Silvia: We are receiving a grant that will help fund our citizenship programs and give us access to useful resources for those interested in naturalization. I know you're done with this process, but I'd still like your input. What other resources would you like to see in the library for those who are in the position you were in?
Dhajanna: I would like them to put more focus on the N-400 questions, for example, those that say, “Have you ever…” Because they ask you a lot of concepts. At least “claimed,” I asked them, “What do you mean by claimed” and they said, “you know, you know.” And then you, [makes a gesture of confusion] well, I only studied the 100 questions.
Silvia: So, you'd like for us to study a little more about the N-400.
At this point, I took the opportunity to tell Dhajanna about a program we were offering that week at the library that focused specifically on the N-400 form. This program was not directly related to our citizenship classes and was open to the public. The program was supported by the organization NALEO which focuses on providing support to those applying for citizenship. As an accredited organization, they can legally provide support with the N-400 form and answer special questions from the public, which is not always possible in our citizenship classes. For more information about our classes or future programs with NALEO or other organizations, visit our events page.
Silvia: What was your experience taking your US citizenship test?
Dhajanna: Um, I sweated a lot. [She makes a gesture of wiping the sweat from her forehead, and we both laugh.] The officer was really kind to me. She repeated the questions several times until I understood. I remembered how you'd tell me to calm down, and ask the officer, “can you repeat the question, please?” Or to say “I'm nervous” and so on. Those phrases helped me when the officer was asking me the questions on the N-400. She spoke very quickly which just made me even more nervous, but your words helped me.
Silvia: Did any of the civics questions cause you problems during the exam or even in class? [Before I finished asking the question, Dhajanna shook her head, but paused when she heard me mention our class. After a brief pause she shook her head no in response.]
Dhajanna: No, because I studied a lot.
Silvia: What is the civic education question that you remember most, or do you have a favorite?
Dhajanna: “Who was the first president?”
Silvia: The first president? Ah, yes that is very easy.
Dhajanna: George Washington!
Silvia: Exactly. Well, I asked you the previous question because I remembered how many times we had talked about the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Do you remember...?
Dhajanna: They asked me! [She points at me animatedly and nods her head.]
Silvia: Oh, so they did ask you?
Dhajanna: They asked me, and I studied it because that week I saw the news that they had replaced him. All week I was telling myself, “they're going to ask me” and "I'm going to learn it because I don't know if they're going to ask me because they've already changed it." And sure enough, it was like the second or third question. When she asked me I was like, “hmm” [makes a gesture of thinking, then points straight ahead and nods] “I've got this.”
Silvia: What is the name of the current President of the House of Representatives?
Dhajanna: Yes, [she begins to nod her head, but then crosses her hands and realizes that she has forgotten] Oh no, I don't remember.
Silvia: Neither do I!
Dhajanna: I don't remember anymore [she says as she starts laughing nervously.]
Silvia: [Laughing, I assure her I don't remember either.] It's very confusing because first, we had Nancy Pelosi, so I had to remind myself to stop teaching the students her name when she left.
Dhajanna: Yes, Nancy Pelosi, then Kevin McCarthy and... Is it John Johnson? Ron Johnson? Robert Johnson?
Silvia: Something Johnson.
John: Robert Johnson maybe? Ron? He's a Johnson.
Dhajanna: Johnson, because the baby shampoo is Johnson & Johnson.
Silvia: The shampoo helped you.
Dhajanna: Yes, Johnson & Johnson.
Silvia: Well, it was pretty difficult to keep up. I had to remind myself quite a few times while I taught it so that I didn't accidentally tell the students the wrong person. I remember one time I was looking at Nancy Pelosi's name on the board. I wrote it and thought "This feels wrong" but I kept going for a while and then I was like "Wait, no."
Dhajanna: Yes, let's just remember Johnson the shampoo
Silvia: Even though we teach these classes, we have to keep up with those changes, which can be difficult. But well, on to the next one. What is the first thing you would like to do after your oath ceremony? That moment when you are officially a citizen? What is the first thing you want to do when they give you that passport or certificate?
Dhajanna: I would like to travel.
Silvia: Where would you like to go?
Dhajanna: To Spain. I would like to travel with a US passport.
Silvia: The correct answer was to vote. [I tell her jokingly]
Dhajanna: Ahhhh! Sorry, VOTE. [She laughs.]
Silvia: To vote for a president. Well, next year. If you want, you go to Spain first and then return to vote.
Dhajanna: Yes, next year in November. [She says this referring to the civics test question, "in what month do we vote for a new president?"]
Silvia: Very good. Next question, what other resources do you use in the library?
Dhajanna: I come for the babies. I come on Wednesdays to read with my baby. And also to the program that was offered on Mondays for five weeks. I use more resources for my children.
She is referring to our Stay and Play sessions offered by HCPL libraries that have a Family Place available to patrons. more information.
Silvia: If you were to recommend the library to family or friends, what would you tell them?
Dhajanna: Yes, they help you a lot. They give you many resources so that, for example, I am a migrant who does not know many people and everything that is here, but you feel like a family. They help you “look, come here,” “you can go here” [Refers to the organizations to which we have directed her, mainly resources that benefit her one-year-old son.] and you make a very, very cool group of friends.
Silvia: Those are all my questions. John, do you have anything you'd like to ask her?
John: Yes, if that's okay.
John: Tell me a little bit about, just briefly, your journey from your native country to the United States and then, like why you wanted to come and how that came about that you came to the United States.
Dhajanna: My husband is an American citizen but he worked in Venezuela for two years. That's where we met. He lived there for two years and we had our first child. He had to return because he worked here in the United States and he petitioned for me. I lasted in Venezuela as long as I had to last. He filed the petition for me as his wife since we got married in Mexico. We actually traveled to Mexico and got married. He filed the papers and about two and a half years later I came here.
Silvia: Is your husband also Mexican or just American?
Dhajanna: He is Mexican. My husband is Mexican and I am Venezuelan. He worked in Venezuela, we met there. We went to Mexico to get married and I returned to Venezuela.
Silvia: Ah, so you returned to Venezuela?
Dhajanna: Yes, I returned to Venezuela while the procedure was going through. I arrived here in 2019. I arrived, and they gave me a visa for one day. When they stamped it for me I no longer had a visa. I had to await my residency that was going to arrive in three months, but it arrived within a month. And then I had my papers and everything. Typically I would have waited three years to apply for citizenship but I waited four because of COVID.
Silvia: So COVID stopped you?
Dhajanna: Yes, first I was here with a two-year residency. Later it was for ten years. And when I had residency for ten years I was able to opt for citizenship.
Silvia: Was your husband born here in Houston or in the United States?
Dhajanna: No, he is from Mexico. He came here when he was 16, something like that, with his family. He became a resident, then a citizen and so on. He is naturalized.
Silvia: So, he had a somewhat similar experience with the exam?
Dhajanna: Yes, he would actually tell me, "Calm down, everything is going to be fine" and I was like ahhh [makes a gesture of being nervous.]
John: What does becoming a US citizen mean to you?
Dhajanna: I feel good. I feel good because I feel like this is my permanent home. Although my English is not that good, I understand, and I can speak it as much as I can with pride. I feel fulfilled because my children know and speak everything in English and now, I am also American. My baby was born here, but he is also Venezuelan. And the biggest one, I brought him here from Venezuela, but he speaks English well. And I want to speak it well for them.
John: Silvia asked you what the first thing was you were going to do, and you said you were going to go to Spain with your passport. I'd like to know, going forward, what do you want to do as an American citizen? Now that you will be an American citizen what do you see yourself doing? What does the future hold?
Dhajanna: Being a student. I want to go for the GED because I am an engineer in Venezuela but here, I have nothing. So, I want to study the GED to get a better job. Because I want a job. Right now, I don't work because I take care of my children, but I need a job.
Silvia: When they are older then. Because the little one, how old did you say he is?
Dhajanna: He is about to turn one year old. As a mother, I want to work to succeed here.
At that time we talked more about the GED and offered resources she could use, as well as considering our program, Career Online High School (COHS) as a possibility for her. <Learn more about COHS>
Silvia: Before finishing our interview, I wanted to tell you that, in fact, you are my first citizen. I started working in Galena Park in 2021. I started teaching classes and now you are my first Citizen. It is a very nice achievement, and I am so proud of you.
Dhajanna: Thank you thank you.
Silvia and John: Thanks to you.
All Harris County Public Library programs, including Citizenship and English Language Learning classes, are free and open to the public. All materials for Citizenship Classes are provided to students free of charge by the library.