Overcoming Illiteracy at the Age of 60


For the first 60 years of Maria’s life, Maria was illiterate; neither able to read or write in any language. As a restaurant cook she would routinely watch and memorize how the other cooks prepared and cooked the dishes on the menu, in order to keep her job. “I grew up in a small Mexican farm town, where families depended on all the children to tend to the livestock and household chores, said Maria. When I wasn’t working at home, I was cleaning homes to help pay for food and clothes.” Maria always had aspirations of going to school, but life’s responsibilities always took precedent.

When she moved to the United States her main focus was ensuring that her children had the opportunity to attend high school and college. Maria patiently waited 20 years in the U.S. before having the chance to apply for U.S. citizenship. This required her to not only overcome her illiteracy, but also learn how to speak English. Maria was referred to IIBA’s citizenship preparation classes and began a two year path to citizenship that required her to learn basic reading and writing skills, beginners English, and the 100 questions on the U.S. citizenship exam. For the first time in her life Maria had the privilege of an education and she bravely embraced the challenge. When Maria wasn’t in class, she was listening to the citizenship exam questions on a compact-disc. “I would listen to the citizenship audio disc every chance I got. It would be playing in the background as I cooked and I would even sometimes fall asleep to the questions at night.”

Preparing for the exam was not always easy for Maria. She remembers many times throughout the two years of studying where she questioned whether she would be able to ever become a U.S. citizen. “Every time I broke down and cried [because I had failed a practice test] I would quickly wipe the tears away and go back to listening to the citizenship audio disc.” The day of her citizenship interview and exam, Maria focused on staying calm and trusting the guidance she received from her class instructors. Maria recalls counting on her fingers every question she answered correctly during her citizenship interview. She answered them all accurately. “When the immigration officer informed me that I had passed the test, I thanked him and rushed out to tell my daughter who was waiting for me in the lobby area.” Becoming a U.S. citizen has not stopped Maria from continuing her education. She has enrolled at her local adult school, with the goal of becoming fully proficient in English.

IIBA is able to provide important legal and educational immigrant services to our clients, because of supporters like you. We generously ask you to consider making a donation this year to ensure that individuals, like Maria, have access to affordable and free immigration services.

Share This