NC College Helps Immigrant Achieve the American Dream
ESL, GED Classes Set Peruvian Immigrant on Path to Citizenship
SANFORD, N.C. — A sense of pride and accomplishment radiates from family photos showing Cary Medina celebrating his first hours as a United States citizen.
In image after image, he stands tall in the Raleigh Convention Center, not long after U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III administered the oath during a naturalization ceremony last October. In some, Medina shares the moment quietly with his wife, Rosario. In others, he’s also joined by sons, Vicente and Emilio, and Oscar Hernandez, a close friend from Central Carolina Community College who helped him along the way.
But in all of them, Medina is clutching a miniature stars and stripes, because for citizen Medina, this moment was the culmination of his American dream.
Born and raised in the Ayacucho region of Peru, nestled in the south central Andes Mountains, Medina moved to the United States with his family about seven years ago, spending his first year in Los Angeles before crossing the continent to begin a new life in Sanford. The plan, he says, was to learn a brandnew culture and experience a different way of life. Earning citizenship in his new country — becoming fully American — was always a top priority.
On paper, requirements to become a naturalized citizen seem fairly straightforward. There’s a naturalization test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requiring applicants to demonstrate their ability to speak, read and write in English, as well as questions designed to assess a basic understanding of civics. The process also requires a detailed written application and personal interview.
But that can be a high bar for immigrants from very different cultures, especially when their native language is not English. The question for Medina was how to make that happen, and that’s when he turned to Central Carolina Community College for help.
He began by taking English as a Second Language courses in a cooperative partnership between the college and El Refugio, a Christian outreach working to improve life for immigrants and build bridges connecting new arrivals with established residents. Later, he took classes preparing him to earn his GED, an academic certification broadly recognized as the equivalent of a high school diploma, and connected with Hernandez, who was teaching civics and citizenship classes at Jonesboro United Methodist Church as part of the El Refugio partnership.
How much did it help, especially for a husband and father in his early 50s who hadn’t seen a classroom in many years? “A lot,” says Medina. “When I arrived in the United States, I didn’t speak English. Thanks to the college and the free English classes, I had an opportunity to learn English and understand and communicate. I encourage people to take the risk and learn new things. Age shouldn’t stop anyone.”
During an hour-long discussion of his journey, Medina shifts back and forth from Spanish to English, using his native language and Hernandez’s translation skills when Medina wanted to be precise, and then shifting to English when he was speaking more off the cuff.
Truth of the matter is that English could have worked for the entire conversation, thanks to all of those ESL classes. But sharing his journey to citizenship was such an important part of his life — and is so important to many of his neighbors — that Medina wanted to say everything just right.
Thanks to CCCC, Medina says looking back, what could have been a long ordeal wasn’t all that difficult. But Hernandez sees it a little differently. He gives Medina much more credit than Medina gives himself.
“Cary Medina is one who excels,” Hernandez says. “The fact that he first completed his GED and then continued with the citizenship class shows his commitment. What he’s done serves as a model to all students in the process of becoming a citizen. But he even goes beyond that. Medina takes the time to serve others in any way he can.”
Despite receiving citizenship, Medina remains involved in courses, volunteering in an English literacy class to help neighbors achieve their dreams, something Hernandez says has been a big help for the other students. And Medina is giving back in other ways, even serving as a board member for the El Refugio outreach. “I like to encourage all the people I can to prepare and become a citizen,” Medina says. “I encourage everyone to overcome the challenges, participate in our community and enrich this country.”
Against all odds, Medina has managed to forge that life he dreamed about when leaving Peru many years ago. But the story is not over. He and his two sons are now United States citizens, but Medina expects to attend at least one more naturalization ceremony in the not too distant future. His wife, Rosario, is now working toward the same goal and once she takes the oath, the entire family will achieve their American dream.