Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015
Twelve years after leaving their native country of Mexico and settling in the Richmond area, siblings Giancarlo Orsatti and Ariadna Rendon became U.S. citizens this week, having been guided through the naturalization process by a service-learning course at Virginia Commonwealth University that assists the local immigrant population.
“Now we have a voice in our country. We can vote for president. And we now have more opportunities as citizens than as residents,” said Orsatti, an HIV counselor and psychology student at John Tyler Community College who will be transferring to VCU in the fall.
Now that we’re sworn in, we are committed to serve this country.
Orsatti and Rendon took part in a class taught by Anita Nadal, an assistant professor of Spanish, and her students at VCU that teaches Richmond-area immigrants English and prepares them for the U.S. citizenship test.
“It’s important to me because we’re now part of this country,” said Rendon, who works as a medical interpreter for VCU Health. “Before, we [lived here] but we didn’t fully belong. Now that we’re sworn in, we are committed to serve this country. It’s special.”
The brother and sister were among five students who took the class and were sworn in as U.S. citizens on Wednesday at the federal courthouse in downtown Richmond.
“There aren’t words to express how powerful it is to see the outcome of our service-learning course – the outcome of five new U.S. citizens,” Nadal said, outside the courthouse on Wednesday. “I’m just too emotional to describe how it feels. It’s just amazing.”
The class was supported by a $20,000 community engagement grant called “A Welcoming Richmond.” These grants are awarded annually by the Council for Community Engagement and administered by VCU’s Division of Community Engagement.
The grant, which was co-led by Saltanat Liebert, Ph.D., associate professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, was a partnership of the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, the Wilder School, the Bridge Community Development Corporation and the City of Richmond’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.
For five of the top students, the grant covered their citizenship application fee of $680 per person. The project’s community partner, the Bridge CDC, paid for a sixth student’s application fee.
Terrell Pollard, executive director of the Bridge CDC, said it has been an honor to help the new citizens navigate the often confusing naturalization process.
“It’s an amazing honor to be trusted with someone’s life,” he said. “There was the possibility that their application might be denied, so for them to trust us as individuals, as an organization, to be able to help them reach a life goal was a huge honor.”
A number of VCU students who help teach the English and civics classes attended the naturalization ceremonies on Wednesday.
Camila Lusso, a senior Spanish major, said it was exciting to watch as the immigrants’ hard work culminated with them becoming U.S. citizens.
“It’s interesting because you get so invested in your students,” she said. “You want to do everything you can possibly do to help them succeed and excel and to get better. And when you see that they are getting better, it’s just the most rewarding feeling.”
BriAnna Bougouneau, a senior political science major, said it was a powerful experience to see the naturalization process in action.
“It gives you an appreciation for your own stance as a citizen. And seeing the new citizens and how much work they’ve put in to become citizens is amazing,” she said. “It made me appreciate my own rights and citizenship.”
Daisy Pinto, who came to the U.S. from Guatemala 20 years ago, was also one of the “A Welcoming Richmond” students who became a U.S. citizen this week, along with Louis Cornelius Francis and Hang Ngo.
Pinto, who works in medical transport for VCU Health, said she was excited to be an American citizen and thanked the course for helping her through the process.
“I’m coming here today because I love America and to get benefits for my family, and to support the Constitution,” she said, surrounded by her three children and nephew outside the courthouse. “The class, I’m so happy that everybody helped me. I say thank you to everybody for that class.”
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