WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Thanks to instruction from citizenship programs, a brand new American has received her United States citizenship in time to vote in the 2020 general election.
Rahel Baza was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Kenya. Her mother came to the United States first and became a citizen, and she was then able to bring Baza to Worthington, Minn., to join her in 2013.
"Worthington was a big city for me," Baza recalled.
Moving across the world was quite an adjustment, bringing major differences in culture, language and climate. Baza explained that she learned English in school, having completed the ninth grade in Kenya. Kenyans, though, speak a British dialect, so the American accent was difficult to understand at first.
Baza spent about five years getting settled in Worthington before deciding to pursue naturalization. The first step was to complete her GED, which she did at West Learning Center. She also took a few English classes to brush up on American language conventions. Then, Baza started citizenship classes at West.
"The teachers and the students were nice," she said of her experience.
Studying for the naturalization test is a lot of work, Baza explained. Everyone is asked 100 questions about U.S. history and government, but there's no way of knowing which 100 any given person will get. As a result, each prospective citizen must study hard to be prepared.
"People should not be scared," Baza advised. "Worthington has a really nice program."
When Baza was ready to take her naturalization test, she traveled to Minneapolis. During the test, the examinee sits across the desk from an immigration agent, who administers the questions, she explained.
The test has three parts: verbal, written and reading. The immigration agent asks the verbal questions out loud, and the written and reading parts are completed on an iPad in the presence of the immigration agent.
At the end of the test, the immigration agent told Baza she had passed.
"I was really excited," she said.
After passing the naturalization test, the next step was to schedule a swearing-in ceremony to officially become a citizen of the United States. Baza had decided to move to Fargo, N.D., so she planned her swearing-in to take place in North Dakota.
Oct. 30 was the big day: She was ready to take the Oath of Allegiance and complete the naturalization process.
The United States Oath of Allegiance reads: "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Baza exchanged her Permanent Resident Card for a Certificate of Naturalization. She was officially an American.
"Now I have the chance to vote and make decisions," Baza said.
Political policies have affected her life the entire time she's lived in the United States, she explained, but there's a big difference between having an opinion and having the power to do something about it.
Baza's new rights are especially significant considering her Kenyan background.
"It's a beautiful country, but it's really corrupted," she said of Kenya. While Kenya is technically a republic and holds elections for public officials, ethics scandals have plagued the nation's government for decades.
Baza is excited that she will be able to participate in the democratic process by voting in the Nov. 3 general election.
"(Naturalization) is really challenging," Baza concluded, "but it's worth it."
In the coming years, Baza hopes to bring her sister over from Kenya, continuing the cycle her mother started.