Multicultural Coalition has shaped many lives over the years. Below are a few of those who we have helped along their journey.
The clients we see coming through our doors bring two things—problems and hope. It’s the latter that spurs us to prove ourselves worthy, to justify their confidence in our ability to find viable responses to the varied problems and difficulties they encounter in their Grand Island existence. Most of them are immigrants or refugees, new not just to this town, but to North America and its distinctly different culture. Many are accustomed to being thoroughly disregarded by mainstream society. In their regard, we often see that they are as grateful for our efficacy in addressing their problems as they are our respecting them as fellow human beings and equals. The following are narratives of the clients we have known.
We assist Sarafina, an African immigrant, in getting the divorce she seeks. It is both complex and time-consuming, but our communal efforts are ultimately successful. Some months later, we glance out our front window, on Second Street, to see her driving by. She has to stop for the red light, and she looks over and sees us. A radiant smile lights her features, and she gives us an upraised fist gesture, a bit like the Arm and Hammer Baking Soda emblem.
“More power to you!”
We know that she’s not giving us the 1960s symbol for Black Power, but rather a gesture understood over much of the African continent to give encouragement and approval, essentially imparting, “More power to you!” Even as the light turns green and she turns to begin pulling away with traffic, both hands back on the wheel, she’s still beaming.
Joseph and Zara
Joseph and Zara we assist in changing the name of their daughter, a minor. The process is relatively complex, requiring several months and involving public notices printed in the newspaper, certified letters mailed on a specific schedule, and a court hearing. They persevere, and we are successful. It is a sad reflection on the state of our society that this need would arise in a nation whose values ostensibly include freedom of expression and of worship.
The name they dispense with, given to her by her grandmother back in Africa, was “Islam.” After Joseph and Zara have thanked us and departed, we are ashamed that they feared persecution of their child because of a name, because this is supposedly the land of the “free.” But we suspect that they were perfectly right.
Osman is well-prepared when he leaves us for his naturalization interview. He knows the answers to all one-hundred U.S. history and civics questions. He knows that he feels confident and ready. He is accustomed to our tutoring sessions, in which we give him abundant, affirmative feedback when he furnishes a correct response. Unbeknownst to us, he believes that his U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) interviewer will behave similarly.
The day of his interview, Osman responds correctly to the first question, and then he waits. There is only silence. So Osman takes the initiative, eagerly demanding, “Did I get it, am I right?” The amused interviewer smilingly assures him that he got it right, just as he does every succeeding question. Later in that same day, Osman takes the Oath of Loyalty, to become a New American.
Josefina comes to us for assistance in preparing for her naturalization interview. Her ten year-old son comes with her. At first, he comes along only because Josefina has no one to look after him during our study sessions. As the weeks progress, he occupies himself with his homework, drawing, or listening to his mom’s lesson. There are only a few of the American history and civics questions that Josefina isn’t able to answer right away—she knows the answer but has a momentary block.
On one of these occasions, we catch him prancing around behind the instructor, grimacing, and doing caricatures, his game of charades to communicate the correct response to his mom. He knows all the answers. And there is a night or two that Josefina is compelled to cancel her lesson, and we hear that he takes his mom to task about it, both because he doesn’t want his mom’s studies to falter and because he likes spending time at the Multicultural Coalition. Josefina receives her naturalization, and they both celebrate.
Butch is of retirement age. His appearance is like that of most any other male of Northern European extraction. He was not born in the United States. Butch arrived in the United States as a child, when his mother married an American service member. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen before Butch turned 18, which means that he automatically acquired citizenship, too. But no one ever sought to procure for him a certificate of citizenship. Oddly enough, Butch served in the U.S. Armed Forces for many years, both on active duty and as a reservist, without documentary proof of his U.S. citizenship ever having been generated.
Butch comes to our office because he now needs his Social Security benefits, but he has been denied due to lack of proof of nationality. He is somewhat worked up, because he is already convinced that we will just give him an excuse for why we cannot help him. He recounts that his requests for aid have been declined by numerous agencies, in different states, over quite a number of years.
We can help him. It is a very involved process of assisting with his application for a certificate. The day we mail it off is a mildly momentous occasion. Then we wait. Butch is certain that his petition will be denied, because he’s always ready for disappointment. Some weeks later, we receive a letter from the USCIS, informing us that his request to waive the $1,100 application has been accepted, because the evidence we provided of his veteran status has been corroborated.
Butch is stunned, initially disbelieving. But the USCIS letter is unambiguous. Months later, his certificate is ready. Butch goes and picks the naturalization certificate up himself in Omaha.