By Lucy Grindon
Interview translation provided by Cecilia Rodriguez Mora
Rafaela Nunfio’s first citizenship interview did not go as planned. Jonathan Fein Proaño, her IRC citizenship class instructor, had warned her that her English might not be ready for the interview, but she was completely irrepressible. “Out of stubbornness, I decided to do the interview anyway,” she said. When she did not pass, she did not let that keep her down for long.
Rafaela came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 2001, but she was always too intimidated by English to consider applying for U.S. citizenship. She did not decide to pursue citizenship until she saw a flier advertising an IRC citizenship class two years ago at the library where she worked. “At first, I held myself back from taking citizenship classes because of the language barrier. It was difficult to overcome the gap between English and Spanish, but when I saw the flier for the IRC, I decided to try to become a citizen,” Rafaela said.
She met Jonathan Fein Proaño, who runs the citizenship and financial capability program, at the very first class she attended. Throughout the rest of her citizenship process, Jonathan was her biggest supporter. He helped her complete her citizenship applications and he encouraged her to persevere despite setbacks. “During my first two interviews, the examiners told me that I wasn’t prepared enough. The second time was even harder than the first because the person administering the test didn’t speak very clear English. So I went back to the classes with Jonathan and prepared and prepared more,” Rafaela said. “I was really discouraged, but Jonathan was the one who pushed me to try again.”
Rafaela completed the IRC’s entire citizenship and financial capability course twice. When she went in for her third citizenship interview, she had already begun the course for the third time. “It was a big sacrifice, so much energy and time. I had to study and study and study,” she said.
Rafaela persisted because she could tell her English was improving and she was moving closer to her goal. “The classes help me with my ability to write out English and read and understand and translate it. I still get nervous speaking, but I’m able to understand English thoughts and word associations,” she said.
When she went to her third citizenship interview, Rafaela was confident that her hard work would pay off. “The last time I did the interview, I was having a conversation with the woman in the waiting room next to me and she said that she hadn’t been able to work for a whole week because she was so nervous for the test, but I felt confident going into my third interview. I knew I was prepared,” she said.
When Rafaela passed her interview, she immediately called Jonathan to tell him the good news. “Jonathan was there from the start to the very end,” Rafaela said. “All of my instructors were strict, but focused. They really encouraged me to keep trying.”
On Tuesday, July 18, Rafaela took her allegiance oath alongside more than 4,000 of her fellow new citizens at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Afterwards, Jonathan was there to congratulate her. “From not being able to speak and understand English to passing her test and becoming a U.S. citizen, Rafaela showed me that perseverance and hard work, with a little bit of determination, can help everyone become a U.S. citizen,” Jonathan said.
Now, Rafaela is an inspiration for the IRC’s new citizenship students. On the day of our meeting at the Pico Union Library, one of Rafaela’s former teachers, IRC Volunteer Citizenship Instructor, Rich Hayden, was leading another IRC citizenship class. Rafaela greeted the whole class with a big smile. “Everyone who’s in the class next door right now, if they pay attention, they’re gonna pass,” she told me.