September 17th is Citizenship Day! We’re celebrating with thirty candidates who will become citizens of the United States in a naturalization ceremony at Hartford City Hall. We’re also celebrating National Welcoming Week (Sept 15-22), a week where we all highlight the contributions made in our communities by immigrants.

All are welcome to attend the ceremony and witness this momentous occasion, from 11:45 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. on September 17th in the Atrium of Hartford City Hall, 550 Main Street.

Citizenship Ceremony at HPL, April 2013

Music and remarks will be part of the agenda as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services presents 30 candidates for U.S. citizenship. The Honorable Donna F. Martinez, United States Magistrate Judge, will administer the Oath of Allegiance to America’s newest citizens, who hail from many countries.

HPL CEO Matthew K. Poland will provide the Naturalization Ceremony’s opening remarks, while keynote remarks will be made by the Honorable Pedro Segarra, Mayor of Hartford.

Special elements of the September 17 ceremony also will include a presentation of the nation’s colors by the First Company Governor’s Foot Guard; students of the Library’s citizenship education program leading the Pledge of Allegiance; and performances by Tom Rotchford and The Mariachi Band / Los Tovardores de America.

For further information please contact  Phone: 860-695-6334

This summer our ESL/Citizenship classes took another trip, this time to Boston, MA.  Here we explored the Freedom Trail, USS Constitution, and Quincy Market.  We took a guided walking tour along the Freedom Trail.  We saw the Old South Meeting House,  Old State House and the site of the Boston Massacre.  We also explored the USS Constitution. The USS Constitution is the world’s oldest naval vessel afloat. Students were in awe to see this. For many, it was their first time being on a ship like this. They did not realize these ships still existed. It was truly a new experience for them.  At Quincy Market the students were met with the sights, sounds and scents of Boston. Food, shops and street performers were all around. Our students grabbed some food and watched the entertainment of street performers while we waited for our tour to begin.  At the very end of our outing mother nature decided it was time for a downpour.  Despite the rain, the students had an amazing time, enjoyed every minute and were very grateful.

This August marked this blog’s 1 year anniversary.  Hooray! In July there is an ESL/Citizenship class trip to the 9/11 Memorial and the Museum of Native American History. That is where we began last year and where I begin today.   As I noted last year, for some students, this was their first time in NYC. The shock and awe at seeing “the Big Apple” in person for the first time is truly a sight to see. Some of our students were repeat visitors from last years trip. For those students, they noticed the changes that had taken place at the memorial over the last year. The Freedom Tower which was still under construction last year was completed this year.  It is still not open but the major construction on the exterior of the building is done. They felt more confident when walking throughout the city. It was a bolstering hot July day and this group of 45 people had a great day exploring NYC and learning about the rich history and culture of America.



Francis Bacon was to have said, “Gardening is the purest of human pleasures.” I didn’t think this to be true until, as an adult, I had a garden of my own. Every year I plant vegetables for my daughter to pick and my animals to eat. My garden beds are small and manageable, yet still they succeed in exhausting me weekly with a never-ending supply of weeds, all things that keep me busy most Sunday mornings before the sun gets too hot.

The Bharatis with seed packets in hand
I am fortunate that, though I live in a city, I have a small yard. Living in a city does not always afford one the benefits of a yard let alone a garden. Hartford residents have access to only a small list of community gardens around the city, so getting a bed can be difficult.  At an Asylum Hill neighborhood welcoming event, an older couple, the Bharatis, from Nepal expressed an interest in wanting to garden, but they didn’t know who to talk to nor how to find one.  Also, their limited English skills made it difficult for them to communicate (their son Rup served as a liaison for them.) Connecting with the closest community garden, Knox Gardenson Laurel Street was even more of a challenge, so I was asked to help them get a garden plot.
Through talking with the people at Knox, I was happy to learn that many immigrants take advantage of Hartford community gardens. In fact, in the Asylum Hill neighborhood, it is common to see Karen, Vietnamese, and Somali residents walking from their garden plots with an abundance of crops for their own families or to sell or exchange with others. In fact, community gardens can be extremely beneficial to cities with immigrant communities. Not only can immigrants grow traditional crops native to their home countries, they can also take advantage of the cultural exchange between other gardeners.  More importantly, gardening allows people from all backgrounds the opportunity to work side by side on common goals without speaking the same language. Imagine! Working collaboratively without the constraints of a language barrier!
So with the help of the Bharati’s son Rup and the diligence of Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association (AHNA) chair Jennifer Cassidy and Knox Gardens Community Outreach Director Charmaine Craig, the Bharatis received not one but two garden beds at Knox. When I called Rup for an update on his parents, he reported that his parents had toured the Knox Gardens with Charmaine, were given seeds to begin planting, and were extremely happy at the promise of a wonderful gardening season. A good friend and avid gardener used to repeat a quote to me, “A garden isn’t meant to be useful. It’s for joy.” Indeed, this is true! I cannot wait to find out how the Bharati’s garden is doing. I hope it is bringing them much joy and happiness!
It’s a little before 9 on a Sunday morning.  I’ve arranged to video chat with the Misbahs because this week, the whole family will have their citizenship interviews, three tomorrow followed by the remaining four on Tuesday.  I’ve grown close to the family over the years, and have followed them through this whole process, so I’m eager talk to them about how they’re feeling. I begin talking with Saqlain, the oldest.
When Saqlain begins talking, I can already sense his confidence. He’s been studying the material endlessly since beginning the citizenship process a few months ago.  As the oldest, he’s contended with most of the preparation responsibility, and I can see it has taken a bit of a toll on him. I ask him what the most challenging part of the process has been.  Besides collecting and organizing all the data and paperwork, a feat unto itself I’m sure (especially for a family of 8!), he admits he doesn’t like the history part very much. “Why do I have to remember the dates?” he asks.  He admits, at first, that he memorized the dates but then actually began learning the information.  I ask him how he feels about his interview and he tells me he’s not nervous at all , I’m sure a result of being over prepared. “That’s the Misbah way!” I joke because I’ve seen it many times with this family and we all laugh together. It’s this sort of preparedness that has allowed Saqlain and his family to come so far.

Nimrah, the second oldest is next to talk to me.  Like her older brother, she too feels prepared and like him, she has struggled with some of the Constitution questions. I admit to her that they’re not so easy. The two older children did not benefit from going to high school in America so, unlike their younger siblings who went to high school here, the

subject of American government is not as familiar. Despite this, the family has remained close through this process, helping each other to stud, attending citizenship classes at the library together on Saturdays, and quizzing each other relentlessly.

Syed Jr. is next. When he sits down at the computer, I immediately ask him what his name will be once he becomes a citizen.  He laughs. He knows this has been a source of confusion for me because I have come to understand there are differences between what a Pakistani uses as a last name versus what an American uses. The family joins in to set me straight and we laugh together as I try to make sense of it all. Ultimately, citizenship will allow the family, including the parents, to use their proper last name, Syed. No longer will they be Misbahs.
The youngest sisters follow their brother. Moni is the first in the family to have her interview. I make a big deal that she is the first one. “You’re the first!” I say, but this doesn’t faze her. She took AP government in high school, so like her brother, she’s comfortable and confident with the material.  She smiles when I ask her how she’s feeling about tomorrow, replying that she’s excited. Her sister Mumiza feels the same sort of confidence and excitement too. When I ask her what citizenship will mean for her, she tells me she is looking forward to having more educational opportunities, including access to scholarships and academic programs.  She wants to go to pharmacy school. Citizenship may help to make her dream possible.

Nailah, the matriarch of the family, has walked a long road to arrive to today.  Knowing her English skills were not at the level of the rest of her family, she began attending English classes at the library earlier in the year. She also connected with April, a Cultural Navigator at the library. Cultural Navigators can help new immigrants learn to adjust into American culture, gain access to city services, or in Nailah’s case, offer English literacy support. I ask her how she has liked working with April and she smiles, telling me that April has been very helpful to her and that she enjoys their relationship very much; she wants to continue working with her on her literacy skills. Nailah has been working persistently with April on the reading and writing section of the citizenship test, an area she felt would be the most difficult for her.  In addition to her work with April, her devoted children have drilled her endlessly, giving her advice on how to handle questions. Mumiza explains, “I tell her ‘just don’t rush, listen to the key points’, and I remind her be careful and to make sure she understands the question before answering.” Her children are all committed to making sure their mother passes along with them. I love this about them.  

What will citizenship mean for them? How will it change their lives? I ask Nailah those questions and she tells me that her children will have access to scholarships and medical benefits. I ask her what citizenship will mean for her (and I really emphasize “her”.) She smiles broadly and humbly and tells me that she feels good because her children will have all these opportunities. Saqlain is looking forward to voting, to “be a part of the democracy.” His siblings all agree that citizenship will provide them with many opportunities, opportunities which they are grateful and will work hard for.
Unfortunately I do not get to see Syed Sr. today as he has to work this morning. His children tell me their father’s name will change to Misbah Uddin Syed, and I smile when I hear this because I think I’m finally starting to get their names straight. I start to think I’m more nervous about their interviews than they are!  I wish them all well and thank them for allowing me to join them on their journey. I can’t wait to hear how it all turns out. More to come later this week! Tune in! 

 Jennifer Kriksciun
     On this day the Misbah family begins their Citizenship studies here at Hartford Public library. There are seven in the family: parents Syed and Nailah and their five children, Saqlain, Nimrah, Mumiza, Syed Jr. and Moniza. They shuffle in and wait patiently for class to begin. I walk over to welcome the oldest son, Saqlain and the family. I’m excited they’ve come. I know today is a special day for them as it marks another important step towards their citizenship, an accomplishment for each of them individually but with greater significance as a family.

         The Misbahs have worked hard since arriving her from Karachi, Pakistan in 2008. They were all formally educated in their native country, and the children studied English so they all had a basic language foundation when they arrived here however not enough to not need English classes when they got here. The younger siblings enrolled in the public system and have only a slight hint of an accent as they arrived here at a younger age. The older siblings enrolled in more intensive ESL classes at Capital Community College to study English.

     The Misbahs hope­­­ for a better life here in America. Besides the freedoms this country gives them, they want the right to vote. They are excited to participate in the next election. And as much as they want to contribute their ideas and their vote, they want to pay taxes and becoming contributing members of the United States. They know that doing so will allow them the opportunity for medical care, social security when they retire, and scholarships for their education.

     They want the opportunity for better education and em­­­ployment. Already all four children are enrolled in college, Saqlain’s younger siblings are all full time students at Capital Community College and Saqlain has just graduated with a degree in industrial technology with a minor at business from Central Connecticut State University. When I talk to him, he cannot contain his excitement for his new job working as an IT Engineer at the Travelers. They all have higher aspirations- aspirations that would be difficult if not impossible to achieve in their native Pakistan. Syed, Sr. holds two degrees in mathematics in Pakistan. After achieving citizenship, he hopes to become accredited to teach mathematics here in the United States. 
     The young Misbah women are strong and determined. This much is clear the moment they start talking. They are full of energy and enthusiasm. I ask them how classes are going and they all respond in a simultaneous echo, “incredible!” They are all excited to have learned so much about American civics, and to be entering this new place in their lives. But they are sad to be losing their citizenship to Pakistan, especially Nimrah, the eldest of the three daughters. I ask their mother Nailah how she feels; she smiles in assignation, acknowledging all the freedoms and opportunities available to she and her family with American citizenship. I can tell she is excited and hopeful, and so am I. I look forward to following them on their path towards citizenship. More to come!

Jasmine Cardi

I am so excited to share that our student from the January 2013 post Encouragement has earned her citizenship! She studied hard each day for 60 days and went back in and passed her interview! We are all so proud of her. After her ceremony she came to the library and shared her experiences with her classmates. In this photo our student (center) is with the judge (to the right) who presided over her ceremony and Sangeeta (to the left) one of our interns who helped her study countless hours and attended the ceremony with her. This is truly an inspiring story of what hard work and perseverance will do regardless of age, race or other obstacles that one may face. Hers is a story of hope and of hard work paying off. Congratulations!

Jasmine Cardi

Each day I am faced with many rewarding experiences at my job. Sometimes I am faced with sad experiences. Today was one of those days. One of our students who had been studying so hard for her citizenship interview and test failed the speaking  portion of the interview. This woman has attended every class, met with tutors, and has studied at home diligently. She knows the answer to all 100 questions. She can read and write in English with proficiency. Her trouble is with speaking English. She is an older Albanian woman who needs to learn English as part of her citizenship requirements. Like so many her story is one of loss. She was widowed years ago and is here with only her sister. She is one of the sweetest women you will ever meet. Humble and thankful for all of our help she greets us daily with a big hug and a piece of candy or chocolate. For the holidays she knit us all a scarf.

picstitch.jpgHer interview was yesterday. She came to study with us two hours before her appointed time. Although we were concerned with her speaking skills we encouraged her to do her best and not be too nervous. We patiently awaited to hear back how her experience went. She came in to see us today and tells us, “Thank you, I passed everything except the speaking.” Immediately she tears up and I give her a hug. She then sees my coworker, Jennifer, and shares the news with her. She starts crying and Jennifer hugs her and says, “I am so proud of you. You passed the questions, the writing and the reading. We will continue to help you with the English conversation.” She continued to give her encouragement and more importantly acknowledgement of what she had accomplished. I felt as if I were witnessing a private moment and almost felt like stepping away, but then I decided to snap a quick picture and share her story.  She has 60 days to improve her English conversation and will have another chance at passing the proficiency level needed to obtain citizenship.

Judy Wyman Kelly

Last Tuesday morning, a group of the library’s adult English language students went for a tour of the majestic Hartford City Hall, located just across the street.  The place is amazing!

Veteran Hartford resident and current town clerk, John Bazzano, was our guide. Constructed in 1914 on land donated by Hartford resident and financier, J.P. Morgan, this city jewel boasts exquisite turn-of-the-century architectural designs, including marble stairways, gilded décor, and vaulted glass ceilings.  The Christmas tree made from red poinsettias added some nice holiday cheer.

But more importantly, we had a chance to find out what City Hall does for Hartford residents, such as providing birth, marriage, and death certificates, property deeds, and voter registration cards.  City Hall is also home to the Mayor’s office and is the place where city laws are passed by the city council.  We had a chance to visit these rooms and even sit in the city council chairs!  Hartford residents are welcomed to go to the Mayor’s office with any questions or needs, and to attend city council meetings on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 7pm.

Jasmine Cardi

Me trying to catch a snowflake

Sometimes, we perform random acts of kindness without even knowing it. You don’t know if the person you are helping has had a horrible day and your smile, patience or help can be either the breaking or salvation point of their day. If I had to come up with a statement that describes my personal ethic (not just my work ethic) it would be: treat others as you’d like to be treated. This is a pretty simple concept. We learn this early on in life. It is so easy to forget this sometimes. Today I was reminded of this very statement. I am going to share my experience with one of our citizenship class students, Maria, who recently became a naturalized citizen. Maria came into the library today even though she is done taking classes with us. She has learned English and recently became a U.S. citizen. I helped her throughout the process, giving her information, setting her up with classes, tutors, asking how she was doing, and checking on the health of her husband who was very ill. Most of all I gave her encouragement. She was very nervous to practice her English and to take her test. She greets me today with a big hug and a thank you card. She tells me, “Thank you Jasmine for all of your help. I am so grateful. You have no idea how much your help meant to me. Last week while at church when the Father asked if we’d like to pray for someone I said I want to pray for Jasmine.  I told them you were not sick and did not need anything. I just wanted to pray for you because of your kindness in helping me and in helping others. I see how you help everyone who comes here and for that I am grateful. Even though I am done with classes I know you are here and if I need anything I know where to find you.” Beyond humbled and teary eyed I gave her a hug and said thank you. It is very rare when I am left speechless. I almost did not share this story as I don’t want to “toot my own horn.” After thinking about this hours later I felt it was a good story to share because far too often we hear either what we are doing wrong or nothing at all. I’d like this story to inspire others to simply treat others as you’d like to be treated. We never know when the roles will be reversed and it is us on the opposite end.