A Californian mother of three overcame her illiteracy to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Unable to fluently speak English, the woman passed her citizenship exam through rigorous study.
On Oct. 18, Jovita Mendez was officially naturalized alongside 700 other immigrants during a citizenship ceremony in San Diego. Born in Mexico, Mendez had lived in Southern California for 20 years before her family encouraged her to pursue naturalized citizenship, KNSD reports.
"I didn't think that I would be able to accomplish this, but I did it ... I did it because my kids are here," Mendez said in Spanish after the ceremony, visibly moved. "They told me I needed to do this for myself, to have a future here. I'm happy."
Mendez had previously been daunted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization exam. The test is comprised of 10 questions randomly drawn from a pool of 100 possible queries about civics and American history.
Mendez was convinced that she could not pass the exam because she could not speak English or read and write in any language.
Mendez felt an urgency to attain citizenship during the Trump administration. While the mother of three had documentation, she had heard that immigration agents were practicing stricter enforcement against immigrants.
"And I said: 'Well, no, I have to do something for my children, because I have children [in the United States],'" Mendez told Univision in an interview translated to English.
Maribel Solache tutored Mendez to prepare for the exam. Their strategy: memorize all of the 100 possible questions.
"My job was to empower her and make her believe that she could do it -- that her limitations were in her head," Solache said. "It wasn't the language barrier; it wasn't that she couldn't read or write, it was her own insecurities."
Mendez memorized all of the questions and answers for the civics exam phonetically, spending hours of each week familiarizing herself with the words and their meaning. She successfully passed the test on her second attempt.
"I am a U.S. citizen now," Mendez said in pafter her naturalization ceremony, crying with happiness. "I wanted something more for myself, and I did it."
Solache asserted that Mendez's story was an example of how the USCIS exam was an opportunity for immigrants "to feel the satisfaction of becoming a U.S. citizen."
In June 2015, a study conducted by the Instituto Cervantes found that roughly 41 million U.S. residents were native Spanish speakers, making America home to the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, The Guardian reports.
Roughly 530,000 immigrants to the U.S. were naturalized during the first three quarters of the 2017 fiscal year, according to the Department of Homeland Security.