A country’s language is its fingerprint

Anastasiya Spytsya

When I walked out of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in New Jersey two weeks ago as a new U.S. citizen, I said, “That was easy.” I felt rather disappointed in the quality of the most important exam I ever had to take.

USCIS reported that nearly 630,000 people become naturalized citizens in America each year. There are certain criteria each applicant must meet to successfully become a citizen of this country. I am not going to go over all formalities, but I would like to focus my attention on the English test, which each potential American citizen must pass.

In October 2008, the USCIS changed the U.S. Naturalization Test to a supposedly more difficult one that was supposed to involve more English and critical thinking skills. The English part of the test consisted of reading and writing portions. I was given the question, “Who can vote?” to read out loud and had to write, “Citizens can vote,”– that was it. My English skills were judged based on these two sentences. How ridiculous is this?

Another problem with the test was that all of the 50-some possible English-related questions can be found online and can simply be memorized. A USCIS officer has no right to ask anything that is not on the study guide because the test is “standardized.”

When I was in the waiting room ready to pledge my allegiance to the U.S., nearly half of the newly naturalized citizens could not understand announcements that were made by the USCIS officers. Naturalized citizens often do not care about adopting the rules of their new home country and especially learning its most-often spoken language. The government itself doesn’t pressure new immigrants to assimilate at all, and actually pressures native-born Americans to adapt themselves to what immigrants prefer. Where is the logic?

The simplicity of the naturalization test terrified me. When a person becomes a naturalized citizen, he or she gains a right to vote in a federal election. I believe that to make an educated vote, a person has to speak, read and write decent English. How else will he or she be able to research and learn candidates’ positions on a variety of issues? From foreign-corrupted press that hates America?

As immigrants, this nation adopted us. This land gave us an opportunity to pursue our dreams, to live freely, to gain an education and to exercise basic human rights. I think it is our duty to honor these rights by at least making a much-needed educated vote to make this great land even better.

The First Amendment gives us a right to exercise any religion and tradition we want. Because of the mix of cultures in the U.S., there are really no such attributes as American customs. American culture and identity is based on patriotism. Patriotism is based on staying united. So, at the end of the day, we should not forget that if all cultures that are present in the U.S. cannot speak the same language, they will not understand each other. And if there is no understanding, there is no unity.

Language is the basic aspect that provides indivisibility. Our founding fathers had a reason to include the word “united” in the official name of America – they wanted the name to speak for the country.

Anastasiya Spytsya is a senior Russian translation major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].