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! 

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