Tuesday, September 19, 2023, marked a historic day in Houston as the city celebrated ‘Naturalize Now, Houston! Citizenship Day’ at Houston City Hall. The day was a manifestation of unity and prosperity, aiming to turn Houston into the ‘Citizenship Capital of the USA’.
The gathering witnessed an amalgamation of almost three dozen journalists and media professionals from diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, a phenomenon, as Lorenza Butler, a veteran publisher and broadcast owner noted, unseen in his 35-year career. “I have never seen this much ethnic media in one room,” he reflected.
National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) launched the “Naturalize Now, Houston!” campaign, in collaboration with the City of Houston, Harris County, Houston Endowment, and Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC), to promote the pathway to citizenship for eligible immigrants, a demographic numbering 300,000 in the region. The initiative, supported by a grant from Houston Endowment and others, aims at expanding and strengthening naturalization programming and addressing the financial constraints associated with application fees.
Ann B. Stern, President and CEO of Houston Endowment, emphasized, “When eligible individuals become naturalized citizens, they unlock opportunities for greater stability and prosperity and make our region stronger as a whole.”
Embodiments of Perseverance
The event resonated with personal stories of struggle, resilience, and achievement from community members like Hervé-Michel Jackson Bremaidou and In Suk Min, who shared their journeys of becoming U.S. citizens. Bremaidou equated acquiring U.S citizenship to “a superhero joining the Justice League,” while Min expressed her relief in finding organizations that assist permanent residents like her in acquiring citizenship.
Community Navigators: Bridge to Citizenship
The event highlighted the role of Citizenship Community Navigators, a group of trusted leaders who aim to bridge the gap between communities and citizenship by addressing language barriers and aiding in the naturalization process. This cohesive effort strives to bring the community closer to its dreams and aspirations, embodying the ethos of active participation in the community’s growth and development.
Nicole Melaku, Executive Director of NPNA, voiced the sentiment, “No one should be priced out of participating in our democracy.” The inclusion of community-based media, she said, is crucial in advancing citizenship initiatives.
City and County Commitment
The collective endeavor also features the collaboration of the City of Houston and Harris County, each employing officials to intensify local governments’ role in promoting citizenship. Dayana Iza, Texas Programs Manager for Mi Familia Vota, affirmed the commitment to helping immigrant communities naturalize, while Thao Costis, Executive Director, Harris County Community Services Department, illustrated the transformative potential of the immigrant population in Houston.
Angel Ponce, the Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, shared his inspiring journey from being an immigrant to a city official, underscoring the importance of investing in communities and enabling them to become productive members of society. “Be confident in yourself,” he encouraged, emphasizing the attainability of U.S citizenship with dedication and support from various organizations.
Citizenship Day Proclamation
The day witnessed the proclamation presentation declaring September 19 as Citizenship Day in Houston, with Mayor Sylvester Turner and Lesley Briones, Harris Commissioner, Precinct 4, highlighting the integral role of lawful permanent residents in enriching Houston’s cultural diversity and economic growth. Mayor Turner concluded with fervor, “That’s just the way we do it in the city of Houston!” garnering applause from the crowd.
As individuals and organizations continue to join forces, the city exemplifies the essence of the American dream, echoing the commitment to transform lives and communities, ensuring that the pursuit of happiness and freedom is a reality for all.