“Ma’am, can you help me?”
Before me stood a young man, dressed in a long sleeved shirt, crisp pants and shined shoes and a tie hanging down his neck. “I don’t know how to tie this thing,” he said while pointing to the tie. I laughed a little and said, “It’s been a while but I’ll give it a try. But you’ll have to pay.” He looked at me a bit puzzled at that, so I quickly added, “When you finish with the ceremony, come out and see me if I can be of assistance.”
You see, I was among a team of volunteers at Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento. We were there to help with voter registration of people who were getting their citizenship papers that day.
When we arrived at 7:30 that morning, the line of immigrants was already pretty long. By the time the doors opened at 9, the line was around the block. We were later told that over 1000 immigrants became citizens that day. We also learned they came from 90 different countries.
When the line finally started to move, we shouted out congratulations. While all might not have understood the words, they all acknowledged our smiles with their own.
All were dressed in their finest befitting the event. One man was dressed in a light tan suit accessorized with a burgundy tie and matching turban. I told him he looked sharp and he acknowledged me with a big smile. One woman was wearing the most beautiful sari I had ever seen. When I told her that, she looked to her husband for translation and then turned to me and bowed her thanks.
Before the actual ceremony began, a representative from the Secretary of State’s office gave a speech. She spoke about the importance of voting, saying among other things that voting was a fundamental right of citizenship. While she spoke, registration forms were handed out. They were to fill them out and deposit them before leaving the building. The mass majority was able to fill out the paperwork, but some needed assistance. That’s where we volunteers came in.
One gentleman came up to me who was originally from India. He told me he had waited six years to become a citizen and he was very happy that he was finally going to be able to vote. He had been reading about our current candidates and was most happy he’d have a say in the election. After completing the form, he very formally bowed at the waist and shook my hand.
Another family I met came from Cambodia. Thankfully they had a member of the family who spoke English pretty well as the man spoke a bit of English, his wife none. It took a while but both beamed when I handed them their receipts.
Others I met came from Laos, Mexico and Greece. All expressed their excitement on becoming American citizens. I congratulated them all and wished them well.
Our team packed up at 2 in the afternoon. We counted our forms and discovered we had registered 70 people. It had been a long, tiring day but we all felt glad that we came. We also decided that our new Americans were not the only ones that should celebrate that day. So we walked across the street and had lunch at PF Chang’s. Yum!
Rosalie Wohlfromm is retired and lives in Auburn. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.