Holding a crutch in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other, Xianjia Yao sat down for his citizenship exam not once, but twice in 2016, at the age of 86. As a proud American citizen today, Xianjia often looks back at his long journey to becoming a citizen with gratitude and pride.
In 2005, Xianjia reunited with his family in Flushing, New York, after he retired from working as an engineer in China. Surrounded by his wife, daughter, and grandchildren, he felt right at home soon after his arrival. As time passed, family and friends started encouraging him to apply for citizenship. Xianjia shook his head. “It is too much trouble. My eyes can barely see and I am too old for it. Besides, where do I even start?”
The discussion about citizenship was therefore halted, as Xianjia felt discouraged by a number of obstacles – mobility, poor eyesight and a lack of information – until his daughter received a letter from the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. The letter invited members of the Yao family to attend a free citizenship workshop provided by New American Workforce, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee, that would walk them through the eligibility requirements and the step-by-step application process, as well as provide one-on-one legal assistance for completing the necessary forms.
Surprised and grateful, Xianjia took this opportunity as the United States’ calling for him to become a citizen. He attended the workshop twice and studied diligently for the citizenship exam. When he had difficulty seeing, he recorded the study materials and listened. After taking the exam twice, Xianjia finally became a new American citizen at the age of 86.
Xianjia’s daughter said the workshop truly made Xianjia feel welcomed and motivated:
“If the letter hadn’t come, my dad would not have had the courage and determination to work so hard and to complete the application process. We are so proud of him and grateful for the support provided by the workshop!”
The Yao family loves telling this story to people and letting them know that the naturalization process is not that intimidating after all, especially when there is help.