On Wednesday, December 19, 2012, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center hosted a holiday party to honor the clients who have naturalized throughout 2012 and thank our citizenship volunteers in recognition of their outstanding work. In 2012, APALC and its community partners in Los Angeles and Orange County assisted over 1,000 immigrants with citizenship. Over 250 of those immigrants have already become United States citizens. Beyond just the numbers of immigrants APALC has reached, however, are their individual stories. Each person out of that 1,000 had a unique story to share and that is the legacy that will continue with the citizenship program at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.
Those of us born in the United States may never understand what an immigrant goes through to achieve citizenship in this great country. It is often times a grueling process of constant scrutiny, fear, and confusion. Citizenship therefore marks the culmination of an immigrant’s trials and tribulations – it means they have achieved the American dream. They are now American citizens with all the rights and responsibilities afforded them. And when all is said and done, it’s an emotional accomplishment.
Maricela Ruiz, an immigrant who came to the United States from Mexico when she was only 18 years old, announced at the holiday recognition party with tears in her eyes that she was the first of ten children to become a U.S. citizen. Akira Tsurakame, a native of Japan and a legal permanent resident for 46 years, was proud to show off his naturalization certificate to the rest of the newly naturalized citizens and volunteers at the holiday party. He acknowledged his emotional journey to citizenship since immigrating to the United States shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II.
It was a night of true inspiration to be among such grateful individuals. APALC Executive Director and President Stewart Kwoh was so moved by the clients that he posed a challenge on the eve of the holiday party: whoever can bring in the most immigrants to apply for citizenship in 2013 will win a prize when we hold the client and volunteer party next year. Yes, next year. Kwoh said, “I was asked if this is the first time we are doing something like this – recognizing our clients and volunteers – and after some careful thought, I believe it is!” With that in mind, APALC will now make the holiday appreciation party an annual event to honor the great work of our volunteers and to recognize the exceptional dedication of our clients.
The Asian Pacific American Legal Center could not have done this work without the generous support of the Knight, Haas Jr., Carnegie, Open Society, Picower, California Community Foundation, and the Coulter Foundation, as well as the hard work of our community partners, including Cambodian Association of America, Filipino Service Group, Inc., Korean Resource Center, South Asian Network, Chinatown Service Center, Tongan Service Center, and Office of Samoan Affairs. This groundbreaking collaboration of foundations and community partners has made it possible to bring to life a vision for citizenship that could not have been achieved in the past. We look forward to 2013 and continuing this special collaboration. For more information about the citizenship project, please contact APALC at 888-349-9695.
--Written by APALC Citizenship Network Manager Nasim Khansari