SF naturalization hopeful finds inspiration in watching friend become a citizen 

click to enlarge Huifang Xing, 69, right, congratulates former citizenship class student Liqiong Feng, 62, after she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen during a ceremony Monday at a CCSF campus. - JESSICA KWONG/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Jessica Kwong/THe S.F. Examiner
  • Huifang Xing, 69, right, congratulates former citizenship class student Liqiong Feng, 62, after she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen during a ceremony Monday at a CCSF campus.

This story is part of an ongoing series in which The San Francisco Examiner will follow immigrants as they go through the process of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens

Citizenship class on Monday went beyond the classroom for Huifang Xing, 69, and her fellow naturalization hopefuls at City College of San Francisco's Chinatown-North Beach Campus.

Their instructor, Pennie Lau, took the 22 students for a walk from Kearny Street around the corner to Washington Street for a half-block, where the campus annex building is located. There, they filed into a few rows at the back of a packed auditorium, where 59 people from 29 countries who had passed their naturalization tests were waiting to be sworn in as U.S. citizens. It was the first naturalization ceremony ever at the campus.

John Kramar, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' San Francisco district, asked for a show of hands of people who had participated in the The City's Pathways to Citizenship Initiative, which provides funding through 2019 for seven community organizations to offer free naturalization services.

Xing, a legal permanent resident who received assistance filling out her citizenship application at a Pathways workshop in December but still struggles with English, did not raise her hand. But she recognized her citizenship classmate from last semester, Liqiong Feng, 62, among the people who would receive their naturalization certificates and smiled.

"I am very happy for her," Xing said in Cantonese. "I really admire her. I am so proud of her."

During the national anthem, Xing softly sang along to the few phrases she knows.

"I wish to be there one day, but I need to feel that I will definitely be able to pass the test," she said. "My heart tells me I do not know it yet."

On average, students at the campus take three to four semesters of citizenship classes before they feel confident and competent enough for the naturalization interview, but higher English-proficient students like Feng can adequately prepare in one to two semesters, Lau said. Xing has been taking classes seven days a week for more than a year and a half through initiative service provider Self-Help for the Elderly and at the campus.

CCSF has the largest number of citizenship class offerings and enrollment in Northern California. It has graduated more than 3,000 students in the past three decades who have become U.S. citizens. Among all the college's centers, the Chinatown-North Beach Campus is one of the leading citizenship class providers, campus Dean Minh-Hoa Ta said.

Ta informed the audience Monday that it was not until 1952 that immigrants such as Chinese citizens could become American citizens.

"So today to have the oath ceremony coming here is very significant to our college, which is part of historical Chinatown," she said.

Immigration services typically hold naturalization ceremonies twice a month in Oakland, swearing in 1,000 to 1,200 at a time. The ceremony in San Francisco, preceded by a musical performance by middle school students from Qiaoqi, China, was a special one, said Sharon Rummery, spokeswoman for the local immigration services office.

"Every so often, we're able to spare the resources to do that, and in honor of the Lunar New Year, we thought it would be really nice to have a ceremony on the Chinatown Campus," she said.

After all 59 new citizens received their naturalization certificates, Xing hugged Feng.

"In life, there is nothing you cannot do," Xing later said. "With time and studying, I should be able to do it. There are people who are 80 and pass. I'll only be 70."

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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