Immigrant Voices

Volunteer: Betty Labastida

I am amazed at the dedication people show to complete the paperwork [for citizenship], and their Betty

motivation to learn a language which is not easy.

 

I started volunteering with the International Institute of the Bay Area (IIBA) over three years ago. I attended IIBA’s orientation and began helping individuals complete their citizenship applications. The flexible commitment really spoke to me. I have been volunteering about once a month since then.

 

My family experience influenced me to volunteer and help others. My parents and sisters emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, on a quest for opportunities and a better life for all of us. I was born in California.

 

We were the only family members on either side to come to the USA. It must have been a great sacrifice, especially for my mother to be separated from all her family. My paternal grandmother came to live with us shortly after we settled in California.

 

My father became a U.S. citizen about five or six years after arriving.  My mother struggled with the English language and related studies, and she started and stopped classes over several years.

 

My father finally insisted that she complete the process, as my sisters could become citizens if my mother became a citizen.  This was a joint family project of practicing, asking questions, and believing that my mother would be successful. It was a proud family moment when my mother and sisters became U.S. citizens.

 

People come to America from many different countries and diverse life experiences. Eligible permanent residents have to be highly motivated to gather the documentation needed to become a citizen, and very patient to listen to pages of questions. I am amazed at the dedication people show to complete the paperwork, and their motivation to learn a language which is not easy. I am a retired nurse and have had former patients of mine come to the workshops, and it is so gratifying that they took this important step for themselves and their children.

 

I have talked with friends about volunteering with IIBA and emphasized not only the flexible schedule, but also the incredible gratitude that clients express for helping them complete their paperwork.

 

I came across the following quote that I think is fitting, and best demonstrates why I volunteer at citizenship workshops:

 

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in Democracy. You vote in elections once a year,   but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to    live in.”  Author Unknown   

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