Monica Garske, NBC7 San Diego, October 21, 2017
Southern California resident Jovita Mendez doesn’t speak English. She can’t read or write, in any language. But she longed for a better future for herself and, this week, she achieved that by finally becoming a U.S. citizen.
Mendez, originally from Mexico, has lived in the United States for 20 years. She has always wanted to become a U.S. citizen but illiteracy and the language barrier have held her back.
“I don’t know how to read, I don’t know how to write,” Mendez explained.
Until recently, she had never had the confidence to take the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalization test, which consists of 10 civics questions randomly selected from a list of 100 questions.
To pass, applicants must orally answer correctly at least six out of the 10 questions. The only way to effectively do that is to study all 100 civics questions, which cover everything from U.S. history to politics.
Encouraged by her children, Mendez decided to take the test. She took classes led by local Maribel Solache.
“She’s a special case. She doesn’t know how to read or write,” Solaches told NBC 7. “When she came to me, she was filled with insecurities and fear. She didn’t know how to tell me that she couldn’t read or write.”
Solache said Mendez also didn’t know she could qualify for special accommodations for the oral test given her age and time spent living in the U.S. Per USCIS rules, if you’re over the age of 50 and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years or more, you can take the civics test in your native language. This also applies to those age 55 and older, who have lived in the U.S. for 15 or more years.
Mendez said Solache would read the civics questions to her several hours each week, and she would repeat each word three to four times until she memorized everything.
Eventually, she memorized all 100 civics questions and the answers.
“I learned the words,” she explained.
Mendez was ready to take her test.
On her first try, she failed.
But she didn’t let that get her down. Solache and Mendez’s children pushed her to keep studying.
On her second attempt, she passed.
“I am a U.S. citizen now,” she said, crying, while proudly holding up her naturalization certificate.