Teaching New Civic Duties
Just three blocks away from the crowded Jackson Heights station lies a small three floored building with three cars parked in front building. After walking through the entrance of the Ecuadorian International Center (EIC), the first room you will see off the right is a large empty square waiting room. Past the waiting room is a hallway with multiple doors on both sides. At the very end the hallway bends at a 45° angle to left and there is a door at this bend. The door leads to a room with a round table and two computers facing each other on a separate table. The two windows in the room provide a moderate amount of light, but the light can barely filter through the blinds.
Here at the round table Stephanie Falcon acts as a translator for her associate Martha. She spends most of the day here in the EIC from early in the morning to late in the afternoon performing secretarial duties and organizing information. On the occasion when translation services are required she is available to promptly provide assistance. At around 5:00 PM, Stephanie and Martha prepare to leave their small room and finish off any last minute work. However, they are not done yet. They leave at 5:30 PM and walk to Elmhurst Hospital where Stephanie teaches civics, the study of the theoretical and practical aspects to citizenship, and English to immigrants.
Elmhurst Hospital’s partnership with the EIC has provided for an easy location for immigrants to reach after work. Their classroom on the 8th floor in the hospital is a sharp contrast from the white clinic rooms you would expect to see. The classroom is more of an executive business room with a large oval table in the center. Comfortable chairs line the oval table and a projector lies on one the end of the table. One of the walls of the room is completely made of glass providing a beautiful view of the city. Here after work a group of various immigrants learn English and civics. Stephanie is mainly in charge of teaching civics for three hours from 6 – 9PM, although she can teach English if the teacher in charge is absent.
After living as a permanent resident in the US for five years, immigrants can apply for a naturalization test. The test is composed of two parts: the civics test and the English test. The civics test is composed of 100 questions focusing on the politics, history and geography of the US. The English test itself is composed of three parts: reading, writing and speaking. While the questions may appear easy to someone who has been living in the US their entire life, the questions posed a gigantic challenge to monolingual and uneducated immigrants.
Stephanie starts each lesson by handing out worksheets and graded homeworks. After that she teaches using the standard US civics book provided by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. “The hardest part of teaching civics is getting them to understand their rights and citizen responsibilities. Many of them come from countries that are not run democratically. After coming here they often do not understand all their new freedoms responsibilities.” Stephanie says with a sad smile, “Add to that the language barrier and the lessons get really hard for them.” Regardless of the difficulties, the immigrants continue to apply for citizenship to reach the American dream.
*[Stephanie requested that her image not be displayed on a public domain]