IIBA’s photo series, “Heart of IIBA” is a celebration of our clients, staff, and volunteers. We hope you enjoy getting to know some of the incredible people who embody the diversity and inclusivity that make up the heart of the Bay Area, and who are at the heart of IIBA’s work.
How has IIBA been a part of your story?
“I became a citizen last month. Without IIBA, I wouldn’t be here right now telling my story and that I am a citizen. I am very thankful. During the interview, I was nervous, but it was easy because I was prepared. I was ready for it. Passing the test was the best thing ever. I went through a lot to finally get what I worked for. My parents came to the United States to give us a better life because they were really poor in Mexico and they couldn’t afford to feed us. I was three years old when I first came to the United States.”
“My plan for the future is to buy a home for my kids and continue to educate myself. Right now, I am studying to be a nurse and I work as a manager in a restaurant. My oldest is 15 years old and the other is 12 years old. They were so happy for me to become a citizen. I’m optimistic about the challenge of buying a home. It’s hard but I think I’ll make it.”
–IIBA Client Socorro
Can you tell me about you or your family members’ journey to the United States?
“My family emigrated twice. My family left Austria at the end of 1938. That was after Kristalnacht when Jews were terrorized and interned in camps. My father got interned but managed to get himself released. The experience convinced him that we really needed to get out of the country. I went to grammar school and high school in Bolivia, and then I came to the US. We moved to New York first. Then I met my husband and he and I moved to California in 1960 and I’ve been here ever since.”
“I knew about IIBA from a friend who had volunteered for the citizenship workshop. There are classes here to prepare people for the citizenship interview. My function is to go into the classes and ask the students if they want to practice the interview. They usually have a copy of their application and we go through that and we proceed with the rest of the mock interview. Mostly it’s just practicing and helping the students gain confidence.”
How has obtaining citizenship impacted your life?
“Since obtaining citizenship things are so much better for us. Before, we were full of stress. We were hesitant to go back to Iran while having our green cards because Iran is on the list of Middle Eastern countries that the US banned. It was tough. Our children were worried that if we went back to Iran and then tried to come back to the US, we might face issues coming back. So right now we are happy that we can travel back to Iran and come back to the US more easily.”
How does it feel when someone tells you they passed their citizenship test?
“Our students know citizenship will make a huge difference for them and their families, and it’s great to see their hard work pay off. As an educator, it feels wonderful to help empower someone. Rarely do educators get a clear benchmark. But with IIBA’s classes, we have a benchmark: Did I help this person attain citizenship? I think that challenge and then ultimately seeing so many people succeed is why we can recruit so many great volunteer instructors.”
–Glen Olson, IIBA Lead Citizenship Instructor
How has IIBA been a part of your story?
“I was always comfortable in my life, to where I felt that I didn’t need any help. I had my mom, I had my husband, and I had my two kids. But when Donald Trump was running for president, I think everyone became scared and that is what pushed me to go look for something that could keep me safe. It is expensive to get a lawyer, but a friend I met in high school gave me Justin’s (IIBA Program Director and Staff Attorney) information because she knew someone dealing with the same issue.
I wouldn’t have known where to start if it wasn’t for Justin. I felt very secure working with him. He’s met my husband, my mother-in-law, and my daughters. I learned a lot about my background with my mom working with Justin and a lot of other things that I didn’t even know. With DACA, I now have a license to drive and a job to help with the bills.”
What do you enjoy about volunteering with IIBA?
“I want to be an immigration lawyer, so I look up a lot to Juan (IIBA Brentwood’s Program Director and Staff Attorney). I want to help immigrants who come here. I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer but I didn’t know what kind of lawyer.
I did my senior project on shadowing an immigration lawyer, talking about how Juan became an immigration lawyer and how he came to do what he is doing now. I then talked about what IIBA does for our community and what the community gets out of IIBA. I also put in steps on if ICE comes to your house, what to do. Lastly, I talked about IIBA’s future plans, like DACA workshops, U.S. citizenship workshops, and IIBA’s Comedy Night for Immigrant Rights.
When I was doing research about IIBA, I learned a lot. Like when IIBA first started, many people who were being targeted were Japanese. Now these days, many people getting targeted are Latin American. I go back in history and it really motivates me to help others and see how history can be changed.”
–IIBA Volunteer, Leila
How would say your life has improved since becoming a citizen?
“Mentally, a lot. I don’t worry about many things. I feel like I have the freedom to speak up and say things that I have wanted to say. I can defend myself. I couldn’t be outspoken before. I don’t have to worry about having to go back and renew my green card. I like to talk about politics without offending anyone. I don’t feel the pressure of someone saying ‘hey, shut up you’re not supposed to say that.’ I am more informed. I did not know much about US history until I had to study for the test. I would ask American friends if they knew some of the answers and they didn’t. I was thinking, you’re going to give me this test about the US that Americans don’t even know?! But I am proud to know US history, that is good knowledge to me. Now once in a while I go back to the questions and it all makes sense to me.”
–IIBA Client, Roque