CMC students took first steps in ESL classes
ASPEN – Learning to speak and write English at Colorado Mountain College was not enough for Zakarya Sidibe or Elizabeth María Ford.
Both immigrants to the U.S., Sidibe and Ford were among those to recently become American citizens in a naturalization ceremony on Colorado National Monument outside Fruita.
The ceremony capped a seven-year journey for Sidibe, who said he came to America from Africa’s Ivory Coast in 2008 through the Diversity Immigrant Visa program run by the U.S. State Department. Up to 50,000 immigrant visas are available annually, randomly drawn from qualified entries of people from countries having low U.S immigration rates.
“There was a lot of turbulence going on” when he applied for the visa, Sidibe said. “I was going to college but there really weren’t any jobs in the Ivory Coast because of all the strife.”
History, rules, politics, paperwork
Sidibe’s sister lived in Aspen, which is what drew him here. Sidibe and Ford both took English as a Second Language classes through Colorado Mountain College in Aspen, which led to a citizenship course and the nationalization process.
“There’s a lot of history, rules, legislation and politics you have to learn” in order to become a citizen, Sidibe said. “The hardest part was all the paperwork and meeting my own deadlines.”
To become American citizens, applicants must pass a long list of eligibility requirements, including five years of residency in the U.S. and being able to speak and write basic English. Applicants then study, complete paperwork, participate in an interview and pass English and civics tests. Requirements were established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Now that he’s an American citizen, Sidibe, 37, is considering his options, including earning a bachelor’s degree at CMC. First, though, he and his 4-year-old daughter will visit the Ivory Coast.
Sidibe sees similarities between himself and the millions of people fleeing fighting and violence in Syria, trying to find a better life in Europe and elsewhere.
Though his situation was not quite as dire as that faced by Syrian refugees, he said, “I know it takes a lot to immigrate, because you leave behind your life. It’s a big decision.”
As an American, Sidibe said he values “the people here, living the good life.”
“If there’s a way to make that happen for other people, then I think it’s important to give them that chance and, at the same time, make the U.S. safer and stronger,” he said.
Never too late to learn
Ford came to the U.S. from Barranquilla, Colombia, in 2006. Her husband worked in Aspen, and Ford found a job as a cook in the Aspen School District. She started the naturalization program in 2012.
“I stopped and started,” said Ford, 37. “Sometimes the forms changed, but it was a good deal. I learned it’s never too late to learn and you just have to keep going.”
Ford said she learned how elected government officials like the governor and mayor function, and called the ceremony “beautiful. Now my family can visit here and my son is here, too.”
Ford’s goals are to take culinary classes, and to continue expanding her experience at the Aspen schools.
“I cook for the kids every day, so I want to help them make sure the food they eat is very healthy,” she said.
She called the ESL teachers at CMC very helpful. “We love them here,” she said.
Courage, persistence pay off
Lorraine Miller taught English as a Second Language to both Sidibe and Ford and said they are among many such students who become American citizens.
“It takes a lot of courage,” Miller said.
She said each year the college’s Aspen or Roaring Fork campuses tries try to schedule at least one citizenship class, which meets once a week for six weeks. After completing the class, Miller said students should have a good idea of the “ins and outs of our government. When they are ready to take their citizenship test, they not only feel knowledgeable about U.S. civics, but understand the responsibility of citizenship in their new country.”
Miller called Sidibe and Ford “beautiful souls, inside and out, who contribute to our community.”
“They both had hard work ahead of them to get where they are, and persistence paid off for both of them,” she said.