6 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY February 22-28, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com 831 “What did Martin Luther King do?” “Fought for civil rights,” the class answered out loud. With a PowerPoint presentation filled with pictures and questions, citizenship teacher An McDowell has her students studying a portion of the 100 questions a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer will choose from during their naturalization test. These are questions that even many American citizens might not know the answers to, such as Puerto Rico being a U.S. Territory or the Bill of Rights. Since December, five students in the Monterey Peninsula hailing from different countries including Mexico, Northern Ireland, France and India, have become American citizens. McDowell says when she worked in Salinas, about 100 students obtained their citizenship every year. In Pacific Grove, however, it is different. “I’d be lucky if 10 students go to their interview,” McDowell says. “This year, potentially, instead of 10 students, I might have 30, which is very exciting for me, so I’m calling it a flurry.” The classroom where McDowell teaches citizenship is decorated with flags from different countries. When the students practice the questions, they also learn about each other; sharing where they were during 9/11 or the cultural differences between their country of origin and the U.S. Among the students who passed the January test is Araceli Ramirez Espinola, a Seaside resident. Her green card was about to expire and instead of renewing it, she applied for citizenship. At the same time she learned the questions for the oral test, Ramirez Espinola was also learning English. She was in the citizenship classes for one year before taking the test. Once she knew the date, “I was so excited and said, ‘I can do this, I can do this,’” she says. Ramirez Espinola says her biggest challenge to obtaining her citizenship was improving her English proficiency. At work, she’s a housekeeper and rarely speaks it. To improve her proficiency, she took English classes at Monterey Peninsula College. Ramirez Espinola says her kids weren’t confident she would pass the test since her English still needs to improve. But when they learned the news: “They were more happy than me,” Ramirez Espinola says. Another student is Ritika Kumar, a Pacific Grove resident and founder of the nonprofit Art Abilities, an organization that helps kids and adults with different abilities express themselves through art. Kumar says having the right to vote was one of the reasons she decided to apply. “Even the small things that happen in the community, you’re losing the vote, you’re losing your voice, so I felt like I’m here. I’m here forever, so I’d rather be participating,” Kumar says. Ramirez Espinola and Kumar went to Santa Clara for their naturalization exam. While waiting her turn, Kumar studied the questions on her phone. “I spelled ‘Washington’ wrong. I was so nervous,” Kumar notes. For Kumar, filling the application form was the hardest part, as it asks for all addresses and trips outside of the U.S. from the past five years. The naturalization test has several elements, including going over the naturalization application, N-400, understanding of English and 10 questions from different topics including U.S. history, civics or government. As part of preparing her students for the exam, McDowell shows them a video with mockup interviews and a Q&A students can practice with. “I really wanted to have a vehicle to help people imagine what the interviewer is like and be fully prepared,” McDowell says. Ramirez Espinola and Kumar came back to the class and shared their experiences with the students, including the interaction with the examiner and whether they made any mistakes. Citizenship classes at Pacific Grove Adult Education are free. For information, email sdorantes@pgusd.org or call 646-6580. Newly Minted With the help of a Pacific Grove teacher, a growing number of students obtain their citizenship. By Celia Jiménez An McDowell has been teaching citizenship classes for four decades. She’s seen many changes to the naturalization process over that period, from cost to time. “I was so excited and said, ‘I can do this, I can do this.’” TaLeS FrOM THe area CODe CELIA JIMÉNEZ Presented By montereychamber.com In CelebrationOf: 2023 Citizen of the Year Mike Marotta Jr. Marotta Properties 2023 Ruth Vreeland Memorial Public Official of the Year Mary L. Adams Monterey County Supervisor, District 5 2023 Robert C. Littlefield Award for Lifetime Achievement Clarissa Rowe Monterey County Bank 2023 Community Impact Award Ron Johnson Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County Business of the Year Award To Be Announced During the Event GET TICKETS!