About Oklahoma’s Efforts
According to the American Immigration Council as of 2015, Oklahoma is home to 235,350 immigrants. The foreign-born population in our state increased 65.8% between 2000 and 2013, according to the Migration Policy Institute. As these numbers rise, the need for English language instruction and citizenship and immigration services continues to increase.
To meet this growing need, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, in collaboration with libraries and literacy programs launched a citizenship and immigration project.
Local literacy programs work closely with the public library to provide direction, technology assistance, and free classes or one-to-one tutoring. Participants may review citizenship study materials, practice listening and responding to citizenship interview questions, access online practice tests, and receive guidance throughout the application process.
The term Citizenship Corner is being used across the country to indicate an area designated to serve non-native speakers. Grant sites established Citizenship Corners in ten libraries and one partner location in Oklahoma. These areas are marked with banners and displays and are equipped with computers with bookmarked websites, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services materials, and other materials that may be of interest.
Libraries and literacy programs currently funded and participating in the citizenship project include:
- Great Plains Literacy Council and Southern Prairie Library System, serving Harmon and Jackson counties;
- Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services and Bartlesville Public Library;
- Community Literacy Centers, Inc. and Metropolitan Library System, serving Oklahoma County.
- Rogers County Literacy Council and Claremore Public Library
- Duncan Area Literacy Council and Duncan Public Library
- Ardmore Public Library
- Lawton Public Library
Each location developed a plan based on the needs of the community. Services include citizenship classes, conversation classes, English/Spanish classes, study pairs, one to one tutoring, brochures, and other outreach efforts and community collaborations.
According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services more than 55 percent of new Americans use the public library at least once a week. They find a trusted environment, resources, and community connections that can ease the way to full participation in American society. For many people, new to the US, libraries serve as a gateway to citizenship, English language learning, and civic engagement. Libraries offer educational materials and training resources on immigration and citizenship. This complicated and lengthy naturalization process is made easier by the combined efforts of literacy programs and libraries in Oklahoma.
The project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) which announced a national collaboration with USCIS to enhance the resources available in libraries throughout the country and strengthen the ability of librarians to guide immigrants to the most accurate and current information available. Concerning the national collaboration, former IMLS Director Susan Hildreth said, “We believe this partnership is a critical step toward making knowledge about the immigration process readily available and accessible to immigrant communities throughout the country, easing the process for others to become fellow Americans.” See more on IMLS and immigration.
Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services
Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services (BPLLS) collaborated with the library staff and applied for a grant as a pilot site when ODL initiated the Immigration and Citizenship project in 2014. In an effort to welcome immigrants, a display window was created, designated equipment was set aside, and an instructor was hired.
BPLLS has been helping immigrants become United States citizens since 2012. Since inception of the Immigration and Citizenship project in 2014, the service has helped numerous immigrants from 50 countries become U.S. citizens. We have also had hundreds of adult learners come through the program to learn to speak, read, and write English so they can be prepared to begin the Citizenship Classes.
The library’s Citizenship Corner brings many visitors upstairs to see what our Citizenship Program is all about. They enjoy looking at the Citizenship Wall of Honor, which features photos of our learners who have become U.S. citizens. Learners are so excited to have their photographs displayed. In fact, a learner who was standing at the wall looking at the photos recently exclaimed, “Soon my picture will be on the Wall of Honor! I’m so excited! I can’t wait!”
Norma, the Citizenship instructor, holds celebrations for the Citizenship Classes several times a year. She invites the ESL Conversation Classes and family members to attend. During these celebrations, the learners get to know each other and share food and dessert from their home countries. The participants truly become a family of support for one another.
Duncan Public Library with Duncan Area Literacy Council
Families, friends, community supporters, library and literacy staff, co-workers, government representatives, and newspaper and television crew were on hand to celebrate the Grand Opening of the Citizenship Corner at Duncan Public Library. According to Mary Brancich, director of the Duncan Area Literacy Council, “The Citizenship Corner will provide resources and help for immigrants in our community who want to pursue citizenship.”
The highlight of the celebration was welcoming new citizens Mila, Lupe, Patricia, Lola and Maria. The women have attended English language classes taught by instructor, Nancy Litsch who is a volunteer for the Duncan Area Literacy Council. Litsch recognized the desire of the women to become citizens and expanded the class to include citizenship instruction.
The new citizens are long-time residents of Duncan and have contributed to the community as employees at the hospital, Legal Shield, eldercare and as business owner and community volunteer. They are looking forward to being able to fully participate in community affairs and anticipate being able to cast their first vote in the November elections.
Representative Marcus McEntire commended the library and literacy council for seeing the needs of immigrants in Duncan. He presented proclamations to each of the new citizens.
The Citizenship Corner project is supported in whole or in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act and is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
Lawton Public Library
Lawton’s Citizenship Corner is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Metropolitan Library System—Edmond Public Library and Southern Oaks Library
In 2016, the Metropolitan Library System developed Citizenship Corners in two branches. The branches promote the services they provide to non-native speakers and have hosted citizenship classes since that time. The welcoming atmosphere and friendliness of the library staff has encouraged attendance and growth of the program. Instructors for the class are from Community Literacy Centers, Inc.
This project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Community Literacy Centers, Inc.
This spring, former citizenship class member and new U.S. citizen Anny DiFillipo was a guest speaker for citizenship classes at the Edmond and Southern Oaks Public Libraries. She shared her experiences and advice with current students of Bruce Caplinger and Marisela Mitchell, who are teachers with Community Literacy Centers, Inc.
In February, both classes heard from Jesus M. Ramirez, Community Relations Officer for the USCIS Dallas District Office and Rosa Ramirez, Community Relations Officer for the USCIS Houston District Office. They explained the current process for citizenship and thoroughly answered all questions. Librarians Darcus Smith and Phil Tolbert help coordinate the classes and lend their expertise and encouragement at each class meeting. Countries represented in the two classes include El Salvador, Iran, Mexico, Morroco, and Russia.
The citizenship classes are being taught virtually this year. Immigrants attend using their computers or cell phones. They have made great progress in civics and English language learning and are becoming skilled at using the distance learning tools.
There is still room for additional students and those interested can contact the following:
Edmond Public Library – Citizenship Classes
Southern Oaks Public Library
Community Literacy Center
Rogers County Literacy Council
The Rogers County Literacy Program with partners Will Rogers Library, St. Cecilia Catholic Church, Catoosa Public Library, Northeast Technology Center, City of Claremore (Claremore Community Center) and Claremore First Methodist Church have provided citizenship services to immigrants seeking to become citizens of the US since 2017.
Reports ending in 2019 showed twenty-three (23) learners gave evidence of improvement via United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) practice tests. Learners improved in speaking and understanding English by oral questioning and answering, especially using USCIS flashcards. Learners took turns reading aloud from texts and in participating in mock interviews. Learners showed great improvement in confidence! Mock interviews were particularly effective in helping learners improve their confidence.
Instructor Malinda Brown, has inspired classes with the story of her family’s immigrant background. See Malinda’s story From Immigration to Citizenship: My Family’s Path below.
Four individuals have either achieved citizenship or are awaiting the swearing-in ceremony.
The citizenship project is supported in whole or in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act and is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
From Immigration to Citizenship: My Family’s Path by Malinda Brown
In 1909 my grandmother, Maria Gonzalea Mena, was born in Mexico. Her mother, Pasquala Gonzalez, raised my grandmother and her brother as a single parent by selling eggs and home-grown produce from the small piece of land on which they rented a two-room shack with a dirt floor. My grandmother attended school for two years, first and second grade, never to go back. Our family does not know exactly when or how my great grandmother and her two children immigrated to the United States, but my grandmother married Jesus Jose Mena when she was 14 and had her first of five children the next year.
My grandfather, Jesus Mena, was born in 1897 and family genealogists do know that he immigrated to the U.S. in 1923. He worked for the Frisco railroad and the family explanation is that the railroad had recruited and hired Mexican men for their crews in the Southwest. Jesus met Maria in Oklahoma, where they married. Jesus never attended school and was illiterate. Most of his life he signed his name with an “X” but learned to write his name to sign his naturalization documents.
My mother, Lorensa Mena Dougherty, was the second child of Jesus and Maria, born in 1926. My mom and her siblings attended public school in Enid, Oklahoma. Maria and Jesus encouraged their children to speak English except when they were at home. Spanish was my mom’s first language and she was always able to speak it.
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy was ramping up a reelection campaign and my grandparents wanted to vote for the first Catholic president. Their next-door neighbor was a history and driver’s education teacher at Enid High School and my grandmother asked if he could help them learn the civics information to become U. S. citizens. They had always told their children that they (the children) were Americans not Mexicans. They memorized all the required information in order to take their citizenship test orally. I know those two naturalization certificates were proudly displayed in their home from the day they received them until the day their house was closed after their deaths.
I cannot truly explain the American patriotism I learned and inherited from my grandmother. She was the most patriotic American I have ever known. She asked to have “God Bless America” played at her funeral. American to the bitter end.
It was my grandmother’s idea that America is the land of the free and the land of the educated! She was always working at educating herself in every way possible. She wanted to do our homework with us and often talked us into playing school so she could be the student. When our homework was too hard for her, she practiced her penmanship at the dining room table. She would ask us to read books to her and sometimes would read to us if we would help her with vocabulary. She made sure every one of her sixteen grandchildren understood that we were expected to learn in school and go on to a higher education.
The five children of Maria and Jesus were Wensor, my mother, Lorensa, Tillie, Bernard and Jessie Joe. My mother went to nursing school and became an R.N. All three of my uncles served in the military; Wensor in the Air Force during WWII, Bernard in the Navy during the Korean Conflict and Joe in the Navy during peace time. My Aunt Tillie went to secretarial school after high school and later became an L.P.N. My Uncle Joe, the youngest sibling born when my mother was 19, went to college – the first in the family. The four older siblings encouraged him every step of the way and he became the family standard. Going to college was expected and my grandmother burst with American pride at every diploma and accomplishment. She told us “only in America” could this happen.
All sixteen of my grandmother’s grandchildren have received college degrees. We are teachers, entrepreneurs, brokers, scientists, federal state department employees, IT techs, nurses, business owners, city development directors, finance managers, and lawyers. We live all over the United States and all of our children are college graduates or in college. My son is an Oklahoma District Judge and my daughter is the House Supervisor of one of Oklahoma’s largest hospitals. One of my nephews is completing his PhD in English.
In four generations, not one hundred years since my grandmother had her first child, we have gone from illiteracy to the highest education degrees awarded, serving our communities and our country. America IS a beautiful place.
Two years ago, I retired and looked for a job or volunteer opportunity that would fit my newly retired lifestyle. My sister, Tena, is a retired teacher (with multiple degrees, I might add) who is working at the Claremore Will Rogers Library as a part time librarian. She knew there was a part time job at the Rogers County Literacy Council and encouraged me to apply. The director, Edel Godwin, gave me the opportunity to assist her two days a week and I became acquainted with the literacy program. I was a biology teacher before going to law school so I thought it would be a good fit for me. I assisted the director in the Literacy Office, and inspired by my family’s history, became the instructor for the LSTA Citizenship Program. My teaching experience and law school education made this job seem custom made for me. It is custom made for me, but not for the reasons I thought.
In my learners, I see the same urgency and ravenous appetite for learning that I saw in my grandmother as we did “our” lessons. In my learners, I see and hear and feel the intense American patriotism that my grandmother had. In my learners I see them encouraging their children to gain higher educations, to strive for the American Dream. And, in my learners, I hear my grandmother and my mom telling me that this is the very least I can do for all that our country has done for our family.
It is my distinct honor to help immigrants become fellow American citizens, but according to all that I know from my family, it is my duty as well.
This project is a collaboration between the library and university and is funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.