Real Michiana: A guiding hand toward the American dream
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It's a task that requires a lot of courage to take on--earning one's citizenship. One selfless volunteer is hoping he can ease that transition by providing a guiding hand toward the American dream.
Bob Hamma started the afternoon classes with La Casa de Amistad about two years ago to help reach those who couldn't come at night.
He may not have his own story of a struggle to citizenship, but he feels like it's his duty to help others join the country he loves so dearly.
“I feel a kinship with the people here who are struggling to make it in the U.S., who have great dreams," said Hamma.
He believes it's "patriotic" to care about immigrants, "to try to make this a welcoming country," he said.
To do his part, he approached La Casa de Amistad looking to volunteer.
They asked if he would teach a citizenship class during the day, because many of their students work evening shifts.
Bob said yes, and he's been meeting with classes every Tuesday and Thursday for the past two years.
During the ten week semester, he and other volunteers prepare their class for the big interview with the immigration agent by asking the 100 questions that could be on the test, helping them master English, and guiding them through telling their own story.
“The biggest obstacle is gaining their confidence and assurance that they can do this," said Bob.
“I born in Mexico, but I have a divorce before and I go to Cancun and I meet my husband...The only reason I’m here is for my husband...You have good opportunities here and you take your choice. I made my choice. And you need to work hard," said Leticia Morris, who moved to the United States about eight years ago now and just gained her citizenship in May of 2018.
With a job of such importance, Bob says he tries to reassure his students that if they work, they can at last join Leticia in becoming American citizens.
“Yeah well our biggest challenge is allaying fear, because a lot of the things that have happened in this administration frankly I think have been to instill fear in the immigrant population, and our students are all here legally...In the words of the gospel, 'when I was a stranger, you welcomed me' is an important part of why I do this," said Bob.
Leticia said the moment she gained her citizenship, her world changed.
“You feel like you take a big stone and put it on the other side. Just don’t believe it, now you’re an American, and you’re like finally. I wait for five years for this moment, and it’s really really good. I feel great," she said.
“They have stories to tell, and they’re awful stories sometimes, but here they are trying to live out this dream, not only for themselves but really for their children. That’s really the motivating thing for most of our students, gaining a better life for their families," said Bob.
**Correction** We previously reported that 75% of the students end up passing their test. Another official with La Casa de Amistad clarified that classes typically have a 75% attendance rate but a 100% success rate of students passing.
To learn more about the citizenship classes, visit La Casa de Amistad's website.