(This article was originally posted at the Thought Leadership series by New American Pathways. You can read the original article HERE)
The 10-year-old Maria remembers clearly the first time she turned on C-SPAN and became enticed with Congressional deliberation and debate. The interest came shortly after our fifth grade teacher had a mock election at our elementary school: Fair Street Elementary School in northeast Georgia, where I voted for the first and only time in my life, to date.
Both these brief moments in time sparked my forever interest in civic engagement. As a 10-year-old child, who was out of any official immigration status, I wanted to get closer to the political process that affected my community so much in any capacity possible.
My journey to citizenship has always been intertwined with my civic engagement in the community in Hall County, Georgia, but has not been defined by my status. Since the age of 11 my mother would offer my help as a translator to family and church friends who were newly naturalized citizens. I have enjoyed my free translation work for others’ benefit throughout all these years, helping one person at a time in their development for betterment. Free translation even seems to just be drawn to me naturally. In fact, on June 23, 2017 (the day I became a naturalized citizen) I was given the honor of translating for another woman who was being sworn in the same day.
My citizenship ceremony was glorious for many of us. I had attended numerous ceremonies before, since my work with GALEO for the last three years has allowed me the privilege of helping newly naturalized citizens register to vote. However, this day was overwhelming with emotions. My family, co-workers, and allies all seemed to share my immense joy that day as they all helped to register me to vote. The country I had always called my own, the United States of America, had finally recognized me as a permanent member of the country.
I look back now at the last years of civic engagement work that I have had the pleasure to help in. As a child out of immigration status, I would help translate for people in different governmental offices/settings. As a permanent resident, I preached the need to register to vote, go vote, and engage with elected officials. My immigration status was always a catalyst for my interest in civic engagement and the long process to citizenship has now engrained more the need for me to engage my community.
According to Civic Responsibility and Higher Education by Thomas Ehrlich (2000),“Civic engagement is working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.” This work, then, is something that all can dedicate time and effort to. After all, the development of the communities we care about so much belong to all of us, regardless of citizenship.
Maria del Rosario Palacios is the current Program Coordinator for Leadership Development & Policy for GALEO. She was born in Mexico and has resided in Gainesville, GA for over twenty years. She graduated Cum Laude from the University of North Georgia with her Bachelor’s in Business Administration in Finance
GALEO is a close partner of New AP in immigration, citizenship, advocacy and voter registration fields. They work with New American Pathways on the New Americans Campaign and ProGeorgia coalition networks.