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The True Meaning of Citizenship

Because today is Citizenship Day, we would like to share the reflections of a native Floridian who grew up in Homestead and is now a national leader. Thanks, Irma!

I remember at 17 yrs. old feeling an overwhelming sense of defeat and despair because my access to higher education was in jeopardy since I lacked “citizenship” papers.  Though I was to graduate from high school with honors, I was told my formal education journey was over since I could not qualify for the scholarship dollars I had worked so hard for.  My family’s income as farmworkers was clearly not an option.

But despite the defeat and despair, what I remember most vividly is my mother’s encouraging and comforting words that day–”Mijita, citizenship is not defined by a piece of paper, but rather by what you do for others…” So I eventually graduated from college and have worked as an electoral organizer since.  I make sure people know that they do not need to be citizens in order to civicly participate in this great country.  That opportunity is here for the taking. And that in addition to the responsibility of working hard, we have an even greater responsibility and that is to help ensure this Nation of Immigrants lives out its embracing values.

Last week I attended an Immigrant Youth Training aimed at fostering youth leadership around the issue of immigration reform.  160 youth came together filled with the same agony of seeing the greatness you can achieve and the opportunity to strengthen your community denied simply because our current immigration system is broken and it’s easier to blame than to fix.  I believe these 160 youth and thousands and thousands of others have the innate potential to make extraordinary contributions, if only we allow them to.

So today I ask Congress to honor the true meaning of Citizenship and in that spirit take on an immigration reform that honors America’s values of not tearing families apart and providing a clear path to citizenship to those who want to make this country better.

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