Joanne S Caye

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Joanne Caye is a clinical associate professor in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). After spending most of her professional life in social work, she began as a professor at UNC. In addition to teaching, she is currently working on her dissertation for her PhD in education, which is focused on Hispanic adults with low English proficiency and little prior formal education who choose to be citizens after 15 years of living in the United States. Four years ago, Caye began teaching citizenship classes in Siler City, N.C. through the Chatham County Literacy Council. Caye is able to provide insight into what immigrants often go through in preparing for naturalization and the barriers they experience during the classes or prior to the classes. In this interview, Caye describes the structure of her classes in Siler City, N.C., making sure to note the variety of teaching techniques she employs. However, she also explains the situation that many immigrants, often without documents, face where there can be frequent license checks. Caye includes many anecdotes about specific students she has taught to demonstrate the naturalization experience and also provides examples of how citizenship can be part of identity or simply a “means to an end.” She discusses that some of the barriers to classes and the process in general are mostly due to money and lack of confidence; as a teacher, she focuses strongly on building confidence among her students. Many of the immigrants that Caye works with have not experienced formal education and this can sometimes create a “fear of learning” that she works to overcome. Caye also talks extensively about why immigrants may choose not to seek citizenship, and that is usually because of fear of disloyalty to one's birth country and external factors such as lack of child care, support, money, or transportation to be able to take the classes. She also discusses that prior successes of her students who have become naturalized provides encouragement to many of her current students and she expects them to come back and share their experiences. In turn a more greatly connected community has resulted in the area, from what Caye can observe.



Elizabeth Byrum: This is Elizabeth Byrum interviewing Joanne Caye. This interview is conducted on April 4, 2013 at 10:22 in the morning. We are in her office on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill in the Tate Turner Kuralt building. Joanne, can you start off telling me about yourself and your background?
Joanne Caye: Um, my profession is that I am a social worker. I went to college for social work and um, worked for twenty years and then was invited to come teach at the school because as one of my very dear friends said, 'They needed old practitioners.' So, um, I came here -- I got my masters somewhere in there -- and um, have been teaching here at the school, or doing trainings. I'm writing curriculum out in the community for almost 20 years and um, staring retirement in the face. But about four -- let's see, that's social work. About four years ago, I did two things. One is I started a program to get my doctorate in education -- a little late in my career, but I've always wanted it so why not? And the other is that I started volunteering to teach a citizenship class in Siler City. Both of those things have changed my life. And um, so where we are now is that I am in the process of getting ready to defend my proposal for my PhD, which is about citizenship among Hispanic adults in Siler City. And so both of my life changers are moving forward and I wouldn't have it any other way.
EB: Can you talk about the beginning experience of working with immigrants and how did that all start?
JC: I knew a little about the work that North Carolina has done with immigrants because between, oh gosh, 1999 and -- no, 1989 and 1993, I worked at the Division of Social Services in Raleigh. And I was over an area in the division that was called, oh it's an awful name. It's called SLIAG, it's called the State Legalization Impact Assistance Grants. And what this did back in the late '80s and early '90s, is that it was what people now call the guestworker program. And so, we were connected to Lutheran Family Services, with the immigrant work they were doing and it was the first time, that the U.S. had really gotten serious about creating a pathway for individuals to go from non-document status to getting documents and being able to get employed at different kinds of jobs. So that's kind of where I first started paying attention to immigration. And I kept paying attention to it since then. I took Spanish in college, so I was kind of connected a little bit that way. And then, um, here at school we have something that is called the Transmigration Certificate. And so a good friend of mine, Josh Henson, is responsible for that. So we started kind of dealing with some of that. He knows a whole lot more about that than I do, but I was on the periphery. Um, and then starting to volunteer with this class, it got, it became very real. I understood very clearly. Because in the beginning, we used to have much larger classes because there was um, tremendous hesitancy to go to ESL classes if you didn't have documents. And I think I can safely say that there is a rather large section of the population in Siler City that doesn't have documents and as I got known in Siler City, and as people started to trust me--

[Interruption, phone rings and Joanne Caye asks to answer it]

JC: {interruption] That's interesting, they said that they got something that said that my email was no longer valid. I'll find out about that. But anyway, I'm so sorry, um, so, um, what was I saying? Can we run it back a second? And I won't be in a terrible gap.
EB: Yep.
JC: Can you do that with that?
EB: Um--

[Recorder is turned off and then back on]

JC: What I started to say is in Siler City, as I got to be well known and people started to trust me a little bit, folks that didn't have documents were a little more obvious about it. So, part of what I did when I was taking a class is we had to do -- it was a qualitative research class and so we had to do a couple of interviews. So I thought about it and I did one interview with the second in command with the Siler City police and I asked him about folks in Siler City that don't have documents and then I did an interview using pseudonyms with a gentleman from Siler City who made it very clear to me that he didn't have documents. And I compared. What was so interesting about that interview is that they were so similar. Just coming from different sides, you know, um. Obviously they had different reactions to the things they saw, but both of them told me that they thought that the number of Hispanics in Siler City, probably between 50 and 80 percent didn't have documents. So that's pretty high. And so, um, my whole point for bringing that up is that I began to learn a lot more about what that means and how many of these folks -- I think about Deferred Action -- were folks who came here as kids, are now young adults, and are stuck. And um, a number of these kids, you know the trouble the parents were having keeping their kids in school, um, because they didn't like they had any place to go. You know, some of that kind of stuff. How hard these people work and they pay taxes, they can just never put in tax returns. So they never get any refunds, because they can't put in the tax returns. Um, really, it's significantly, I don't even know if it's a word, it facialized my understanding of immigration. Now everybody had faces and I have to say that I still struggle with this whole notion of 'What do you do about documents and no documents?' But these folks have been here for years and years, and they work hard, and they are more American than apple pie. You know, it doesn't matter that they're speaking English, they're here. So yeah, that's a very long answer to your question.
EB: [laughter] And a lot of people you're working with, do you know their status here? Or is that not really a consideration?
JC: We never really ask. But I'm doing it long enough now so that I can begin to hear things and I understand a little bit of the code, you know so I can figure out. But the bottom line is we don't care. Chatham County Literacy Council is very clear that we never ask and we don't. Um, and because the class is not an accredited class in Siler City Center, I mean I have class from there, I use their stuff, they're very sweet, but my folks aren't on their roles, so there's no issue about documentation there. So, do we ask? No. Can I figure it out? Frequently. Because you can tell the folks coming to citizenship class to learn English, because they can't sign up for the other classes. And um, but it becomes pretty clear.
EB: Is there a large number who do come to the class for English and aren't necessarily close, I guess, to taking the exam?
JC: Um, the number is increasing in the Saturday class. Because my class is in the community college, the number of people who did that pretty much has bottomed out. Two reasons: one is it's in the community college. And the other is that in Siler City, the road that the community college is on, because it's brand new, the road that Siler City Center is on, is the same road that the hospital is on and there's sheriffs cars on it all the time. And they do license checks, you know. So folks don't want to come in that road. You know, some of the folks in the class have told me that the Siler City police will do license checks, um, more heavily on school nights, when there's a school event or um, when they're having PTA meetings, I mean, which just makes me a little crazy. And when I asked Major Harmon about that, who is the second in command in the Siler City police department, and he was just quite talkative. Um when I was asking him about that, he said, 'Well, people shouldn't be driving without licenses. And we're almost always in the same place at the same time.' I'm thinking, 'But yeah, how did you choose those places?' It's pretty clear they're looking for people who don't have licenses. Several years ago, Chatham County declined being part of the 287g -- do you know what I'm talking about?
EB: Emhm.
JC: Ok, more recently, not very recently, because now 287g is kind of slowing down, you know they don't do it so much anymore. I think that the folks in Chatham kind of admired what the sheriff in Alamance was doing because he is Tate? Is that his name? I'll have to go back and look. Oh my gosh, pretty rabid about finding people who weren't documented and putting them in jail. Um, but the pendulum has swung the other way and so he's under investigation by the Feds anyway, the guy in Alamance is. So, um I think there is some push-back from that now. So they're not doing that so much in Chatham, but they're still doing the license checks. You know, and people can get deported for that.
EB: Right. And so is that affecting the attendance at your classes sometimes you think?
JC: I think so. When we moved, we were in an old church and I used to feel bad because some of the people weren't in the best of physical shape. We'd have six, seven, eight, nine people every week. Now I have, like last week, I had one. Commonly, I'll have four and the people who just kind of come to learn English, they don't come. Cause we're sitting right there with the sheriff's department. I mean, th police is on the other side of town, but they park on our street a lot.
EB: And regarding the structure of the class, what does a typical class look like that you teach?
JC: Well we try to change it up some, so that it's not, so it's not lethal. But um, let's see, it's, it's pretty much a teach to the test, I do have to say. Everybody who comes gets a copy of the questions because as I'm sure you are aware, there are websites out there that say, 'If you pay $39.99, we'll get you all the forms you need.' That makes me so angry. And what I say to these folks is, 'Do not pay for these forms! Do not! You can get them for free!' I say, 'If you can't get 'em, I'll get 'em.' Don't pay for these forms, because they were sending in money to people to get the forms you can get for free. Talk about a scam. And, god, it makes me mad. And so, everybody gets a copy of the questions in English and Spanish, everybody gets the words they are going to use for the reading and the writing. Everybody gets the lit—the civics book I mentioned to you. And then the other stuff, I make copies of and I bring in. And I have maps and I have all kinds of stuff that I bring in. But because this isn't my classroom, I have to put everything back into a big tub every week. So everything has to get put away. I finally -- this surprised me. It took me over a year. I kept pull -- I have a little flag and we would bring it out to talk about the flag. And we would talk about what the Pledge of Allegiance is and stuff. And so I kept putting the flag out and they kept putting it away. Finally, there was a little place at the very top of the white board and I found out that I could put it up there and it wouldn't be in anyone's way. Well now, I finally got the flag up and I thought that was very interesting. But anyways, so um, what we do. It literally depends on how many people show up. Because I have access to the internet, sometimes what we will is--we will go through -- and I hate the way the questions are ordered, they're in such a bizarre order, they don't fit together and so I do them out of order, you know, but then we'll go back and do them in order because I want to get them used to hearing them no matter how they show up. But, um, usually we'll talk about some of the questions and that's when we'll do the pictures you know and we'll have stuff from the internet. This citizenship study guide has all kinds of pictures about all different kinds of things. And um, like for instance when we're talking about the national anthem, I'll ask them if they know the national anthems from their own countries. And when you have a small class like this, you can do that. So everybody will take turns singing their national anthem -- you should hear me try to sing the Star-Spangled Banner, it's outrageous. So we'll do some of that and then we'll go on the internet and look up the flags of their home countries and then we'll look at the U.S. flag and they'll tell me about their flag and I'll tell them about ours. Because I have this expression for adult learners, 'You're looking for the hooks in their head.' And what I mean by that is adult learners attach new information to previously learned information. So if they've got it that Guatemala has x, y, z um, anthem, then it would make more sense, 'Okay, this is the anthem of the United States.' And what's that anthem about? This is what our anthem is about and it was written during the War of 1812 and this guy named Francis Scott Key was on a ship. And the smoke parted during the war and he could see the flag. You know, so we talked about that. So it's a very interactive kind of thing. So we do some of that. If I'm using the book that I made the copies of, then we'll literally go through. They have to write answers to that. The civics book that we use is very simple, so um, we'll do some of that. I have a couple, I don't have as many as I want, it's outrageous, but I have the musical “1776.” So when we're talking about the Declaration of Independence, I'll run it to the end when they're all in there signing it. And then they stop and there's the picture of them signing the Declaration of Independence. Sometimes, if it's people that have a little more English I'll show them that part where John Adams is trying to talk Thomas Jefferson into writing it. You know, cause I figure, that works. Some of them borrow it and take it home and watch the whole movie at home, you know, and I figure why not. Um, I look for some, there are some websites that have a picture of, YouTubed, of the citizenship text. But I find most of them are really stilted. And I saw one which horrified me and scared everybody to death. It was the examiner was asking the person to explain what it meant to be in a totalitarian state. And I went, 'No, don't worry about this. We're not going to do this.' You know, that's why I'm quite envious of the CDs and stuff that are with this, this one [points]. That would be cool. So then we do that and depending on the crowd, for a long time, we really had to do a lot of writing. Because that's where they were lowest in confidence. They just didn't feel like they could write. The group I have now, they've got writing made in the shade. One of them is a physician who--she is such an outlier--from El Salvador and is um--I mean she is trying to get her English up to snuff so she can pass her TOEFL with a high enough grade so she can get back and get her certificate to be a physician here. Needless to say, she knows the stuff. She doesn't know the civics. So the group I've got now, writing they've got, reading they've got, so we spend much more time on the civics. And the citizenship study guide, we can do it as a group, or we can do it individually on computers, depending how many are there. And it's a multiple choice, so that gets them closer, you know. And then we get to the place where they have to answer it orally. If they're not sure, what I say is, 'Take the questions, look at this, and then you can answer the questions. Look 'em up, that's fine,' you know 'This isn't the test, so look 'em up until you get comfortable with that.' Then when they have a little more confidence, they are more comfortable answering them out loud. And what's pretty funny is that we have an agreement that they have to speak in English and I have to speak in Spanish and they correct me and I correct them, you know. So it works out pretty well. And then let's see. Haven't done...Oh we have a reading test that the Chatham County Literacy Council asks me to do once every six months. So we do those, but that's not terribly often. When we had folks that were very, very inexperienced with letters and writing and stuff, we made our own flashcards of letters and would just hand them to them and see if they could come up with words. We had them working in groups, because then the folks that knew them better could help the ones that didn't know it as well. Um, so that's kind of what we do. If they look kind of tired, sometimes I bring a medicine ball with me and we do exercises in the middle of class. We've done things where we throw balls and practice each other's names. Um, we write on the board. I want them to get used to doing that kind of stuff. They tease me, because you know, culturally, especially the women [whispers], they are really soft and you can't hear them and they cover their mouth. So I'll sit there and go 'What? What?' and they'll kind of look and I'll say, 'I can't hear you, I can't hear you.' And I'll make them, their version is to yell at me but it's not yelling. But cause they're barely saying things loud enough to be heard. And I'll say, 'If the examiner cannot hear you, he will think you do not know.' You know, so we practice, hollerin' it out, you know, so that they know. And then the rule is that when they take the test, they have to come back and they have to tell us what questions they got asked, what they had to write, and what they had to read. And that is worth its weight in gold. Because then they're not getting it from me. They're getting it from themselves. The other thing we do is that we have them make up, I have them make up the sentences that everyone else has to write. So that, they learn in lots of ways doing that. So that's the kind of stuff that we do. How does that compare with you Durham classes?
EB: Similar. I think that there's, it's a little more structured. How long are these classes?
JC: Two hours.
EB: They are also two hours. Um--
JC: Yeah, after two hours, they're dead
EB: Is there homework, is that a component of it?
JC: I ask them to do stuff but I don't always check it. Everything I'm reading in the research says that homework is good. So I'm trying to decide if I want to start instituting homework. I may.
EB: In Durham we don't have the computers, so it's all the teacher is in front kind of--
JC: It's all low tech.
EB:--dictating, she has maps and stuff, and she points to them for geography lessons, but um, there's group sometimes to answer the questions and sometimes we play games. Similar, just less. She tries to go in order, there's chapters. It's a ten-unit book and she tries to do one or two units depending how big they are each week.
JC: But I'll bet you that the units don't go in the order that the questions are. Which just, the way they do these questions. Have you read through all 100 questions? They're crazy. You know, you're going along and you're asking about the Supreme Court and then all of a sudden there's a question about the Declaration of Independence. It's like, 'What? No.' You know what, adults need to have stuff kind of so you can put it in a little silo and you can learn that piece.
EB: Chronological helps.
JC: Yeah, I'm just like, 'don't do that.'
EB: What have you learned about the naturalization process through doing the classes?
JC: Oh gosh. I have learned that examiners are very different. So some folks get really easy and some folks don't. We shoot to the hard ones and then they come in and say, 'Piece of cake.' But there are some that are tough and we are clearly teaching to the test. We're shooting for the hard guys. There's one woman in Durham that everyone lives in fear of but um, ah--The other thing is, that although I don't really know all the reasons, because that's what I'll learn, why people choose to do this, boy they're pretty energized about this. So the naturalization, there are some parts of the exam that I wonder, you know, does it really matter who wrote the Federalist Papers? Or that kind of stuff. But I would love it if we could spend more time on what it means to be a good citizen. I'm going to use that loosely. But um, that would be nice. Generally, I think it is hard, but I don't think it's unreasonable. I think it's a good idea that people need to know something about the country they say they want to join. The Oath of Allegiance is, is – [interruption] in such difficult language--
[interruption] --oh my gosh, I'll call her back. It will stop in a second, let me in fact. The Oath of Allegiance is written, have you read it?
EB: No
JC: I don't have all this stuff with me, otherwise I'd be glad to show it to you [interruption]. Is written in such legal ease, that these folks simply do not understand what they are saying. It's 'that I adjure any allegiance to any prince, potentate, or sovereign from any totalitarian, but other than--' you know it's like, 'OH, my goodness, really.' You know, so um, we practice that a lot. Not a lot, but some. Because I want them to have at least some notion what in the world they are saying. Because this is an oath and you say you promise this. It's much easier for folks to take the naturalization test [interruption] now that we have dual citizenship.
[interruption] Oh my, this just doesn't ever happen, three times and it'll stop.
So um, I guess um, I have learned that it's very hard for people who are coming with low education. That they have to work double time and they're willing to do it. The part that I get most upset about, not about the test itself, is that frequently [interruption] the folks who take it--
[interruption] --and that's Afghanistan. My goodness gracious, I can get back to all of these people.
But any how -- it really is Afghanistan -- but um, they are still treated like people without documents [interruption], even when they become citizens. That's not okay. And it has more to say about, it has a whole lot more to say about us, than it does about them. Because they're proud as can be of being citizens and we don't always treat them well.
EB: What do you think are some of the largest barriers to finally becoming a citizen?
JC: Oh, I think money. The folks I see, it's not impossible, but it's a stretch. Some of the folks it takes a long time for them to pull this together [interruption], but they get there, they get there. Sorry about all the noise. And um, the other piece is that they have to get past their fear of um, doing school kinds of things. Um, like I said, a lot of these folks haven't been in school very much, their children, not always, but a lot of their kids are having a real tough time in the schools here, they don't find the schools terribly welcoming and now they're going to put themselves in that position? I think there's a lack of confidence. In fact what I say to them, excuse my pronunciation, what I say all the time is, 'Competencia, sí. Mucho, alto. Confidencia, confianza...' How do you say confidence?
EB: Confianza
JC: Is that right? 'Confianza, no. Bajo.' So I said, 'Here, we raise the confidence because you know this stuff. You just have to practice.' It's like the woman who came Tuesday. She started out, she wouldn't speak, she wouldn't say anything, and I kept saying, 'But you know these things, but she would say, 'I know nothing, I know nothing, No sabe nada.' And I said, 'I bet you do.' I looked at her and I said, 'So..' What did I start out asking her? I started asking her about Guatemala which is where she is from. And she would tell me some stories and I would say, 'So, can we write something?' And we figured out what she can write and her handwriting is beautiful. So she wrote this down. And I said, 'Look at this, look at this.' She said, 'But I know nothing.' I said, 'You know this and you know this' and we went through and finally I said, 'So what we will do in here is teach you the civics, the historia de los Estados Unidos.' I said, 'That's what we'll teach you.' And I said, 'Everything else, you know.' And as I got to know her a little better, oh yeah. So I had her read the words, she could read them all. She didn't know what she was reading sometimes, but she could read them. And I said, 'The rest we can teach you.' So when she left, she's moving from Siler City to Pittsboro. So I said, 'We'll have to see if there's a class in Pittsboro.' And she says, 'But I like coming here.' And I said, 'If you want to come here, you are welcome to come here.' But it's a drive, and she goes--I was talking about gas. But I think that matters to her. If she comes, that's great. And I think she had a good time, when she left, I mean she didn't want to leave. And finally at 8:00, I said, 'You have to go now' [laughter]. 'Goodbye, I have to go home.' But yeah, so I think that money and confidence. You know, I have some people that I call some of my characters who oh my gosh, they want...One gentleman that I'm thinking about, he's an older gentleman and if he didn't know the answer, he didn't want to make it look like he didn't know cause I think that was face-saving for him. So he would go, 'I have to think.' And he would say it in English, 'I have to think.' And I would wait for a little bit and I would think, 'We do not have a clue.' So I would, you know, do stuff. So I think it's the learning. For some of them, they haven't been school in forty, fifty years if at all. But yeah, money and confidence.
EB: Is it difficult maybe with people who haven't had formal education, to introduce learning and the process of learning instead of memorization? Um, I was talking to someone else and they talked about how their grandmother came here um, not sure if she took a class specifically, but basically she just memorized what she had to know for the exam. And now if you ask her, she has no clue.
JC: Well, I think some of that happens, you know. And that's part of the reason why I want to do some more understanding. Because I want to see how much they comprehend, which is part of the reason why I try to stop for a little while and when we say freedom of speech, we'll say, 'What is that? What does that mean?' We'll talk about that you can say 'I don't like something' and that's alright as long you don't threaten people. And then we had a talk about what it means to threaten people. So we practice that a lot and um, I'll ask..We talk a lot about current affairs, you know. When Sotomayor was going on to the Supreme Court, it was like, 'Who is that? What does that mean? How long does she get to be there?' you know, 'What does she get to decide?' Here you've got a Latina that's on the Supreme Court and what does the Supreme Court get to do that has anything to do with you? And every time a Supreme Court decision would come up that I would think might have something to do with them, we would play with it. Are you running out of time?
EB: No
JC: Okay, so um, I push that a lot. I think for some folks, they get a little frustrated with that because they do just want to memorize and be done. I pay attention to the questions, but some days we got to talk about what it means. Oh, gosh, like six months ago or something or so, there was a rock group of women in Russia that got put in jail because they said something bad about Putin, and we talked about, 'Okay, so what is there in the U.S. constitution that says that that shouldn't happen here? What amendment is that?' you know, and they're like, '….' And what do you call those first ten amendments? 'They're the Bill of Rights and they're for you! Your rights!' So we push it pretty hard. But yes, there are people who just want to memorize. And I'm there to help them get ready to take the exam, so if that's how they want to do it, that's what they can do.
EB: Besides some of the difficulties we just talked about, are there other reasons why an immigrant who has maybe lived here for ten, fifteen, twenty years doesn't ever want to become a citizen, you think?
JC: Um, I think they are afraid that it means that they are disloyal to their country of origin. I think that's a biggie. Sometimes it's external stuff. It is changes in job hours, it's the gas to come to class, it's lack of childcare, it's um, a spouse that doesn't want them to do it, it's um, let's see [pause], because they don't have documents. You know, there's lots of reasons why people don't proceed. But um, what I'm reading tells me the external stuff is pretty major. But I also--I've had many of the people who've been in class tell me that um, they don't like one of the questions. One of the possible answers is that you give up loyalty to your home country and they don't like that at all. So what I say to them is 'You have four answers. If you don't like that one, choose another one. If you feel bad, because you're saying you're not loyal to Guatemala, don't say it. Say that you will be loyal to the laws of the United States.' And that's okay. You don't have to not be loyal to Guatemala. You can be loyal to the United States' laws, but still have a very strong feeling about your home country. And even everything I'm ready, that's absolutely correct. I'm not telling them something that's going to get them in trouble. So, yeah, that's a biggie. But um, I think there's a lot of external stuff, childcare, gas, time, um...Their work hours are so bizarre. Now the poultry plants in um, Siler City, are gone. But before that, they never knew when they were going to have to work. So they just have to stay at work.
EB: Right. So you have experienced some immigrants who have experienced this possible fear of losing their birthright and heritage in becoming a U.S. citizen?
JC: Oh yeah. It's very real and they will tell me proudly that they want dual citizenship. I have also a personal connection to that because one of my best friends is a naturalized citizen from Brazil and she still keeps both passports, because she feels so strongly about that. So I thought, 'What is it that we think people are supposed to give that up?' No, you know, you can have them both. Legally now with many countries, not all, but with many you can do that. And certainly most of people that I see you can. Because Mexico, Latin America, Colombia, those are all countries where you can have dual citizenship. Now, the U.S. never goes the other way. If I was going to live there, I could not maintain my U.S. citizenship. But if they want to come here, they can. The U.S. is so funny. Now we won't recognize dual citizenship with anybody for our citizens.
EB: How do you think citizenship and becoming a citizen or either not choosing to become one leads to identity and an individual's decision about who they are?
JC: You know, that's a really good question and I have pondered that a lot. I don't know if I have a really good answer. I can tell you two things: one is this whole conversation about maintaining, 'Yes, I'm a U.S. citizen, but I'm really Guatemalan.' I mean there is a young woman who is getting ready to take her test and she hasn't been back to Guatemala since she has been in this country and she came as a young person. She's not sure she'll ever go back to Guatemala, but if you ask her who she is, she said, 'I'm a U.S. citizen, but I'm a Guatemalan.' You know, I find that very interesting. I'm comparing that with probably the person who was pretty close to being the most important to my deciding that this was the population I really want to spend my time with. No surprise, her name is Maria. Maria is older, um, still has children and um, she's just got a great sense of humor, but she has some health problems. And, excuse me. She wasn't in class for a long time which was really unusual. And um, so when she came back to class, I was so happy to see her and she told me she had had a heart attack. And I said, 'Oh, Maria,' and we talked some about that and she said, 'I told my husband not to worry because I would not die until I was a citizen.' I could feel these goosebumps come up on my arm. Well she passed her test and I went to see her take her oath. I don't get to see everybody, but I went to see her and um, I took her aside after that and I said, 'Maria,' and she goes, 'What?' 'Just because you are a citizen doesn't mean you should go ahead and die. Don't do that.' And she laughed and she goes, 'Okay.' But I mean, that's how much it meant to her. I see it as such a major part as who she sees herself as being. There are other folks that it's a means to an end. Either way, for me it's like, 'That's okay.' But I want them to be active citizens. You know, that's the piece that I think I have some stake in. And you know, Chatham County Literacy Council got a van and took everyone down to vote, you know, who had become citizens recently and they all went down and voted together. And um, you know we talk about voting all the time. And the gentleman I was talking about that was the welder that had taken so long to get his stuff, he was so upset because there was some question about his application and it got straightened out and things got clarified, but it took too long and he couldn't vote. Cause I mean, he was a little distressing. He was very clear who he wanted to vote for and um, it didn't bother me a whole lot because I tend to agree with him. But somebody said they wanted to vote for the other candidate, and he looked at them and said, 'You're an idiot! Do you think that person cares about us?' [laughter]. It's like, 'Whoa, okay.' That's when I said, 'But in this country, you get to decide. So even if you disagree with this person, he gets to vote whatever way he wants. It's not for you to decide, it's for him.' And so we talked about that some.
EB: Right. Regarding the current pathway to citizenship, what do you think are some of the major flaws?
JC: Oh gosh. And I'm not as, I mean I read lots of stuff, but I'm not sure I'm right up to snuff, so I may be committing some heresy here. Um, Deferred Action at least slows down some of the deportation, I think that's a definite positive. But it's not a sure thing. And if you come out of school or if you get in trouble with the law, you can get nailed and now you're visible. So you don't have any cover anymore, now they know who you are, they know where you are. So that's a little scary. Now I know that people with major convictions are probably not going to make it through the citizenship process anyway. So they probably don't try, but at least they know to stay undercover. I know that sounds really stealthy. But that worries me, that they are becoming very visible and then are going to proceed with that. Um, my hope is, you know I'm certainly paying attention to everything everyone's talking about this week, but um, my hope is that we can land some place so these folks don't go into limbo. You know, make a way, make a path, and let folks do that. Because Deferred Action and discontinuing a lot of the deportations, that's a step in the right direction. But folks are still in limbo, you know. We are a country of immigrants and we are arrogant sometimes when we act like the other immigrants are a problem, but our parent immigrants are not. That's nuts. But um, so I worry about the limbo piece. It's not a short thing, it makes people visible without um, a real, solid road to walk on. That's the biggest one. This whole, pink thing about the licenses, that's uhhhh, that's just horrible. And I was very proud to hear that um, our, well my, I don't know where you live, um representative in the state legislature is Deb McManus and she was one of the first sponsors to ban that pink background. So I was very proud of her. Because I was over on lobby day and I saw her and I went into her office and I said [whispers], 'Way to go! That was fabulous.' So I think that's good. Um, and I guess that's my major flaw concern that I have. Cause it's a rickety bridge. And once you're out there, you're out there and you can't pull it back. Um, I'm also concerned about the kids who are dropping out of school now because they still don't believe it. Um, you know, all the prohibitions about scholarships and funds from the Feds and the state and paying out-of-state tuition. I mean it just creates these terrible road blocks and these kids are here, you know. And they've been here, their whole lives, pretty much. So I think that's my biggest piece.
EB: Are any of these concerns expressed by the immigrants themselves or is this other people kind of seeing the system and critiquing it? Or do people you work with kind of understand?
JC: Most of the folks I see are not going to be eligible for the Deferred Action so I don't see their younger folks too much but I hear some things that they talk about with their kids or grandkids. So I can't say that I've had lots of conversations about that, um, but [pause], yeah. I'm thinking about one woman who has since become a citizen. And she talked about um, her granddaughter got pregnant in high school and she thinks part of the reason was she figured, 'Well I can't go to college, so I might as well have a family.' You know, which is a little distressing. I know some other folks that have since become citizens who have a son that dropped out of high school because he didn't see any pathway, you know and--So no, I can't, for me it's second hand. So not so much, the folks I see in class are older.
EB: But, classes like this and also having people come and share their experiences who have successfully become citizens is what is kind of key to making people understand that this is a possible thing?
JC: Yeah. Every time, in fact, this is one change. There's a woman that's in one of my classes that, I have to be so careful how I say this stuff, there is a member of her family that does not have documents and she mentioned that to me. And um, so I found--she can read pretty well--so I found some um, real baseline articles about this whole rule now that if somebody can prove that leaving would bring terrible hardship if they're going to be deported. Because she lives in great fear. So I brought that to her and I said, 'If you cannot read this, if this doesn't make sense to you, I will bring it to somebody and we will get it translated so you can understand this. Or you can bring it to a neighbor or whatever.' But I said, 'You need to know that this is now an executive order,' and we talked about what an executive order was and she doesn't talk much in front of the other students so I kept her a little later than everybody else. And I said, 'This affects you. So you need to understand this and you need to know what it means and heaven forbid if something would happen, you need to know that you ask for help with this immediately.' And so yeah, we try and, any kind of stuff like that, I try and bring it into class. And um, make sure they know what the rules say and what the laws are. Cause, my initial group didn't have a clue. I mean, I'm watching people become more connected over four years, and that's a pretty short period of time.
EB: And the students I assume have reacted positively to when a former student comes back and shares their experience in becoming a citizenship?
JC: Oh, they love it. Oh they love it. In fact they know that that's the rule. And they come back and everybody comes back and applauds and then they have to literally say--they know now when they come out of the exam, they immediately go to their questions and mark the ones they got asked so that everyone knows. And there's a pattern, there's a pattern that shows up with some of the questions. They, they, they have the sentence they were asked to write and they have the class dictate the sentence they were asked to write. So they do that, I mean they become the teacher. I can follow most of what they say, there's some of what they say I can't follow. But there's lots of questions about whether or not they were treated with respect and I mean a lot of that stuff shows up. And except for this one woman who seems to be a bit of a witch, everybody else--and I don't know her name--everybody else feels like they were treated with great respect. You know, and then after they take the oath, they come back and they bring their um, page with their picture on it and stuff. They bring their certificate and then they talk about how they are going to go ahead and get a U.S. passport. It's oh gosh, they just, they love it and the class loves it. Oh yeah, that's a great celebration. And I always take their picture and then we're putting together kind of a pictorial account of everybody who's gotten their citizenship. Because last--in 2012, we had seventeen folks. And given the fact that we're small, this is a rural area, and just from Chatham County Literacy Council, we had 17 people. We were quite pleased. You know, because that's seventeen out of probably thirty-seven, so almost half, which I think is just great. You know a lot of these folks, like I said, they're coming in with not a whole lot. But I think they're doing great.
EB: Great. Those are all the questions that I have for you. So thank you very much
JC: I probably talked you ear off, so I apologize.
EB: No, thank you very much for the interview it's a lot of great information.
JC: Okay, okay.