Hope for the Future (Citizenship Classes)

July 10, 2018
Statue of Liberty

photo courtesy of sharemomentssharelife

On July 4, 1776 marked the adoption of the Declaration of Independence which declared the United States of America a new country free from foreign rule and it marked an important event during the American Revolutionary War. In addition it stated that those who chose to live as citizens in this new country had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As a native born citizen, I have always felt a connection to July 4. Not only was I born in 1976, the bicentennial of our country, I even have a nephew who was born on July 4. However, the biggest connection is that I, like many Americans, believe in the hope that comes with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and I find it a wonderful privilege to teach citizenship classes to students at the Center for New Americans. Four times a week I am greeted with eager, hopeful students who wish to learn and become a citizen.
Luida and her husband are a couple of the students who attended Citizenship classes at CNA. On July 2 Luida passed her Citizenship interview, an essential step in fulfilling the hope to be a citizen of the United States. Luida was so excited that she brought a beautiful Ukrainian Honey Cake as a thank you and in celebration of the Fourth of July, which has taken on even more meaning for her and her family now.

Luida's cake

Another student, Mar, also just recently passed her interview and is excitedly waiting for her ceremony in August. Mar says that she did not learn to read or write English until she came to the United States. She is so very thankful for the intelligent, caring teachers at LSS that have helped her achieve her goals of learning English and becoming a citizen. She says, “LSS teachers are smart, now I am smart. I am so happy! I can’t believe it!”
LSS provides citizenship classes to immigrants and refugees that qualify to apply for citizenship. Currently the Center for New Americans is serving approximately 200 students who diligently come to evening, early morning, or weekend classes.
What does it take to become a U.S. Citizen?
The U.S. naturalization process is an expensive and difficult process. Candidates for naturalization need to undergo and pass an intensive interview in English.
Candidates must then undergo an oral examination on U.S. history and government where they must listen to and correctly answer six out of ten questions that are randomly chosen from 100 possible civics, history, and geography questions.

Would you pass?

The USCIS has an online practice test: https://my.uscis.gov/prep/test/civics
Finally candidates are required to demonstrate their English reading and writing ability. Candidates must pass all three exams before being recommended for citizenship (naturalization).

For Free Citizenship Classes starting in July 2018:
You can receive free citizenship classes if you bring your green card. LSS will be enrolling new students the evening of July 12 and the morning of July 28 for citizenship classes. Call 731-2000 to schedule an enrollment appointment for the next class session.
To be a Citizenship Class or ESL Class volunteer: Contact Kristyne Duffy at Kristyne.Duffy@lsssd.org.
Want help filling out the “citizenship application” or N-400?
Call 731-2000 to schedule an appointment with an immigration attorney for reduced or free rates.
Want to know more about the process of becoming a citizen?
Visit the USCIS website https://www.uscis.gov/ for details.

 

Written by Heather Glidewell, ESL and Citizenship Instructor


When We All Work Together

June 19, 2018

“There is no “us” or “them”. We are different, yes, but in the same way that we are different from anyone else. We have all lived different experiences, and some of us are privileged to have experienced the lives that we have.”—Tea Student 2
The Tea Area High School Spanish instructor, Ms. Mahli Garry, and 6 of her Spanish III students along with students from Mitchell, SD, spent the morning with our students during their English classes. The students had the opportunity to observe and interact with English learners at all levels.
Additionally Ms. Garry and her students had a school-wide fundraiser raising 144 folders, 67 notebooks, 876 erasers, 2957 pencils for the students at LSS. The class who could raise the most had the opportunity to pie their teacher, and Ms. Garry was the honored recipient.

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LSS Education Program Assistant Diana Streleck, Tea Area Spanish Instructor Mahli Garry, and Tea Spanish III students with supplies raised for the LSS students.

After visiting LSS, students reflected on their experience. One student (3) said, “The days leading up to the trip I was quite nervous. I had no idea what to expect from these refugees. I honestly didn’t want to go on the trip all together. I felt like I was going to be so out of my comfort zone that it would be ‘painful.’” But now, “This experience will have quite a lasting effect on me. Actually getting to see the refugees and understand the process a refugee must go through to get relocated to a place such as LSS was a very humbling moment.”
Additionally a student commented, “I had many favorite moments during the trip, but I enjoyed hearing about the various cultures. I knew that I was confronting the description of ‘America is a melting pot’ head on.” And yet another student remarked, “Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the students at Lutheran Social Services. I would highly recommend this field trip to other high school students. This was an amazing opportunity to gain a better understanding of our area and the world we live in. With all of the talk in the media, I feel that it is important for students to have the opportunity to form their own opinions of the world and the people that live within it.”

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Students from Tea visit one-on-one with LSS English students.

LSS ESL Instructor Supervisor Laura Smith-Hill said, “[The high school] students did a wonderful job interacting with ours and I am so pleased that they continue to find value in this experience as do we.”
This is the third consecutive year that Ms. Garry and her Spanish students have had toured and volunteered in classes as a cross-cultural field trip. A big Thank You Ms. Garry and the Spanish III class for your dedication and continued support.

 


Nadifa – A Success Story Continues

May 22, 2018

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A while ago I introduced you to Nadifa Mahamed, who came to Sioux Falls in 2010 with her family as refugees from Chad, West Africa. Nadifa came with no English but a powerful drive to learn, to learn everything she didn’t have the opportunity to learn back in Africa. She navigated the American school system and graduated from high school. She just finished her sophomore year at University Center, forging a path for herself that is uniquely her own.
Nadifa has grown into a confident young lady who knows what she wants to do in the future. She has been asked several times to share her story, a story that she hopes will inspire other young people to go after their dreams.
Last December the South Dakota Board of Regents was meeting in Sioux Falls and Nadifa was invited to speak to the Board – an event that would have a huge impact on her future as a student. The board members were touched by the fact that she was willing to share her personal story and they visited with her privately after the meeting. The president of a university and a local writer, all wanted to help Nadifa.
One board member in particular took a few more minutes to talk to Nadifa – and gave her the most incredible news: he was going to pay her tuition – every semester from now on until she finished her undergraduate degree! Nadifa couldn’t believe her ears, she was crying, she was smiling, she was shaking, she was so happy! And all this generous man wanted in return was to be kept updated on her courses and grades. No problem there.
Nadifa still works part-time as a food ambassador at Avera and an administrative assistant at LSS-Center for New Americans. But Nadifa feels no more financial pressure. In the fall, she will start her junior year at SDSU at the University Center, majoring in sociology with a minor in human resources.
After graduation, she plans on being involved with non-profit organizations, working with empowering women and girls of color to become strong, independent individuals. Eventually she plans on having her own non-profit whose mission will strive to end arranged marriage and child marriage, issues she feels very strongly about. “If we had stayed in Africa, I know I would be married by now with several children, but we came to America, where I can be free!” Nadifa says.
I am sure we will hear more from Nadifa in the future!

Written by Silke Hansen, LSS English Instructor at the Center for New Americans


Ramadan

May 17, 2018

As you read this blog, Muslims all across the globe are observing Ramadan. But what exactly is Ramadan? And what are they celebrating?

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Ramadan takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Its start date differs by 11 days each year, based on the sighting of the first crescent of the new moon. In Sioux Falls, it started this year on May 16 and will end on June 14, marking exactly 30 days. It is a month of fasting to remember and celebrate the first revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad.
Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. For a Muslim, Ramadan is not a choice but an obligation. The fast lasts from sunrise to sunset, which could be from 10 to 15 hours or longer, depending on the time of year and geographical location. No food or drink can pass their lips during that time. Muslims not only fast with their stomach, but also with their eyes and with their tongue – don’t engage in any negative activities such as lying, gossiping or arguing and don’t inflict any physical or spiritual harm on anybody. This teaches you how to become more aware of your own range of emotions and how to handle them.
Not everyone is obligated to fast. Exemptions include the elderly and very ill, young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers and those who are traveling for more than 3 days. Those who are able to are required to make up the days they missed at a later date. Those who are unable to fast are encouraged to provide food to a homeless person for the duration of the fast. Starting at the age of 6 or 7 children start to practice fasting. First, they might skip a meal, then fast for half a day, gradually increasing the time of fasting until they are able to fast for the entire 30 days once they reach puberty.
Ramadan offers the opportunity to grow closer to God. Believers are strongly encouraged to diligently read the entire Koran. I was told that if you read at least 5 chapters every day, you can accomplish the task. It is a time for self-reflection and self-improvement. Fasting brings out compassion for the less fortunate, for those amongst us who deal with food insecurities on a daily basis.

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Muslims pray 5 times every day. During Ramadan, strict prayer times are observed and additional daily prayers are strongly encouraged. The Mosque is a central gathering place for community prayers and fellowship. Many Mosques stay open 24 hours to allow Muslims to spend extended periods of time in prayer and reflection. It is not uncommon for some to spend the night when they don’t have to work the next day.
Each day at sunset, at an exactly given time, Muslims ‘break the fast’ and gather for a meal. Ramadan is also a very social time and often the people around the table include friends and neighbors. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a major Muslim holiday, Eid Al-Fitr. Special prayers and sermons are held at the Mosque and the day ends with a huge feast, oftentimes in a park where the entire community can celebrate together.

Written by Silke Hansen, ESL Instructor, Center for New Americans


The Heart-Shaped Holiday

February 12, 2018

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Everyone is seeing red. Valentine’s Day is here. The day for lovers, for family, for friends, for co-workers – the official day when we show the important people in our lives how much they mean to us. The day is celebrated with cards, flowers and chocolates – and lots of them. Many of us grew up with the annual tradition of Valentine’s Day, we remember our parents and grandparents reminiscing about it.

 

But how long has this special day actually been around? The answer is quite simple: Forever. The beginnings of this romantic day are anything but romantic – they are rather mysterious. Christian and Pagan rituals evolved into the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated today.
Many legends surround the saint named Valentine. One story tells about Valentine, a Roman priest, who secretly married young lovers until he was found out and thrown into prison. There, he fell in love with a young woman who visited him on a regular basis. Shortly before his death he penned her a letter and signed it ‘from your Valentine,’ a phrase that is still associated with this special day. All the tales that speak of the beginnings of this tradition center around a romantic hero named Valentine.
The British Library in London has the oldest Valentine’s card on display – written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was held in the Tower of London. Americans started designing their own hand-made cards, beautifully decorated with ribbons and lace, as far back as 1700. In 1840 these cards were replaced by the first printed, mass-produced cards. About 150 million Valentine’s Day cards exchange hands every year, only the number of Christmas cards is higher; 85% are bought by women.
Many countries around the world celebrate the day with their own traditions. Denmark sees the exchange of pressed, white flowers called snowdrops. France, with a reputation for romance, had a rather unusual tradition. On February 14, men and women would fill up houses on opposite sides of a street. Then they would call out to each other and pair off that way. The women who were left behind later gathered for a huge bonfire where they burned pictures of the men who stood them up and insulted them greatly. Over the years, this event got so out of hand that the French government banned it altogether. In China women prepare elaborate offerings of fruit to Zhinu, a heavenly king’s daughter, in hopes of attracting a worthy husband.
How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day?

Written by Silke Hansen, ESL Instructor

 


Remembering

January 16, 2018

“What movement tried to end racial discrimination?” The Civil Rights Movement
“What did Martin Luther King, Jr. do?” Fought for civil rights

As a Citizenship Class instructor, I have the privilege of sharing about the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. every session. Before discussing the 1960s, we cover the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, and the Emancipation Proclamation. The focus then jumps to World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II before moving to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. The history questions for the Naturalization Interview do not hide the long history of slavery in the United States. Students learn early in the session that slavery existed in the “thirteen original colonies.”

“What group of people was taken to America and sold as slaves?” People from Africa

To help students understand “racial discrimination” and what life was like in the United States for many African Americans following the Civil War and during the time of Dr. King, we often look at the infamous pictures of segregated water fountains and bathrooms. I tend to avoid the darker pictures of lynchings and angry mobs, not wanting to rouse any post-traumatic stress in our refugee and immigrant clients.

In reality, they “know” discrimination in a much deeper sense than me, their instructor. Many experienced racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination in their own countries. The Nepali-speaking refugees from Bhutan, the Kunama refugees from Eritrea, the Karen and Karenni refugees from Myanmar and many other minority groups that we serve at the Center for New Americans fled or were expelled from unbearable conditions.

 

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(Photo courtesy of AND JUSTICE FOR ALL)

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the lines above in 1963 from where he sat in a Birmingham jail following mass demonstrations of organized civil disobedience. Its truth rang loudly when it was first read, and continues to resonate reality today. I love my job and I love interacting with and learning more about my students, but their daily presence is also a stark reminder that gross injustices have occurred and continue to occur in many of their countries. I am grateful they now live in the United States without fearing for their lives. I am grateful for the rights guaranteed them and protecting them in the Bill of Rights and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but I wonder about their family and friends not here…those still in the refugee camps, those still in their native countries. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” My students remind me that we are all responsible for each other.

Written by Kadie Becker; Reposted by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor


New Year’s Traditions

January 2, 2018

Every year I find that my students share similar New Year’s traditions, but there are also unique traditions for each country.

The Ethiopian New Year is September 11, known as Enkutatash in Amharic or “Gift of Jewels.”  Traditionally this holiday commemorates the return of the Queen of Sheba from a visit to King Solomon.  It also occurs at the end of the rainy season when Ethiopia is flourishing and flowers are plentiful.   In the morning, after a church service, young girls go from door to door singing and bringing flowers, young boys paint pictures of saints and play soccer games, and adults enjoy the day with beer and camaraderie.  Incidentally the Ethiopian calendar is 8 years behind ours, so it is 2010 this year!

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Ethiopian flowers in bloom for the New Year

When doing some research I found that there are actually 9 different New Year’s days in Nepal, the official one is based off the Nepal Sambat calendar (which is 56.7 years ahead of our calendar, so we will be ringing in 2075 this year!)  This holiday is celebrated between April 11 and 15, announcing in the spring season.  The day is celebrated with picnics, parades, soccer and volleyball games, religious rites, and gifts and cards.  People take time to consider both the past and the future and make resolutions for the coming year (sounds familiar!).

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Dancers celebrating one of the many New Years in Nepal

We of course cannot forget about the Chinese New Year.  Following the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the Chinese New Year starts the end of January or beginning of February and lasts 15 days.  Homes are thoroughly cleaned and decorated with red, old debts must be paid, gifts of money are exchanged, and it is common to light firecrackers.  Cleaning the home removes all bad luck, and allows the new luck to prosper.  This year Chinese New Year is February 16.

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Chinese New Year Festivities

A little closer to home, Guatemalans celebrate with music, dance, colorful costumes and fireworks.  People gather at the center of town to celebrate together.  There are two essential dances that hail from Hispanic colonists, el Baile de Moros y Cristianos and la Quema de Toritos y Alas.  The first dance represents the defeat of the Moors by the Christian Spaniards.  The second combines both dance and fireworks when a man dressed as a bull parades through the town and fireworks shoot from his “wings,” lighting up his path.

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The Dance of the Moors and the Christians

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The Burning of the Bulls and the Wings

 

Here’s wishing you a Happy New Year, no matter how you celebrate!

Written by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor


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