Margarita Zapien is from central Mexico and began working at Stanford 15 years ago after immigrating to the U.S. at the age of 31. After holding her residency for seven years, she was denied a Mexican passport and realized she needed to become a U.S. citizen to be able to travel freely between the U.S. and Mexico. Determined to be able to attain her U.S. passport and travel to Mexico to see her family, Margarita submitted her citizenship application, even though she hadn’t begun to prepare or study.
To her advantage, Margarita had been a long-time participant of Habla, a unique student-led English tutoring program at Stanford (which she has now attended faithfully for the past four years), when she submitted her application. After learning that a few different janitors studying English wanted to apply for U.S. citizenship, Stanford student tutors volunteered to dedicate their time during Habla to helping the janitors prepare for the citizenship exam. For several months Margarita and others spent Habla sessions studying the questions asked on the exam, playing related games, practicing for the interview, and becoming familiar with the exam format and process. Margarita was incredibly fortunate to have this support and, because of the help she received, achieved a great feat, passing the test on her first try. Reflecting on the experience, she openly says that she likely would not have passed the exam if it weren’t for the help of the tutors in Habla. “I had a CD to help me study”, she said, “but it’s not the same as hearing the students’ voices and understanding them – a CD just runs, but they asked us a lot of questions ,and it was very helpful for me”.
As a citizen, Margarita is now able to access additional benefits and services in the United States, travel home to Mexico to see her family, and exercise her elective voice. She has also applied for her brothers and sisters in Mexico to come to the U.S., and is happy to be able to travel freely to Mexico. One of her current goals is to continue learning English, an additional goal that her participation in Habla will help her achieve. She also hopes that her husband and grown son, who haven’t yet taken the citizenship exam, will do so in the near future.