Although she is not yet a citizen, Roxana Flores has celebrated the Fourth of July for years — ever since she came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1999.
Dressed in red, white and blue, Flores, her husband and two boys always honor Independence Day with a cookout in Baker Park.
But the holiday this year had a special significance for Flores. She hoped it would be her last Independence Day before she becomes an American citizen.
Flores, a legal U.S. resident for years, is applying for citizenship, and is scheduled to have her interview on July 24 in Baltimore.
“I am very excited,” said Flores, who has been waiting for this moment for about nine years.
“Every day I study, study, study...” Flores said. “My dream is to speak better English and get my citizenship.”
When they first come to the U.S., immigrants like Flores often can encounter barriers that keep them isolated. Limited knowledge of English and the absence of a support system can prevent immigrants from integrating into the community.
That’s why for them, traditional American holidays such as Independence Day often carry a special significance, said Freida Pryor, a tutor at the Literacy Council of Frederick County.
Whether they recently became naturalized citizens, or are applying for citizenship, immigrants often see July 4 as an opportunity to fit in.
“They want to be a part of the community. For them it is a special day.” said Pryor, a retired Montgomery County teacher who has helped dozens of immigrants learn English and build a life in Frederick County.
Flores came to the U.S. to join her husband — a native El Salvadorian who immigrated 22 years ago because of the war in his country. She hoped to start a family and a new life, but with her limited English skills and most of her time being spent at home with her children, she remained isolated. Despite her husband’s encouragement, she could not build the confidence to apply for citizenship.
That changed in 2011 when she discovered the Literacy Council of Frederick County — a nonprofit that provides free language tutoring for English learners and helps them become active community members. The council matched Flores with Pryor as her volunteer tutor, and set her back on the right track.
“I think this day God prepared my angel,” Flores said.
With Pryor’s gentle encouragement, Flores improved her English and started her citizenship application.
She now is reviewing the questions for her interview, and has her two boys — 9-year-old Vladimir and 12-year-old Javier — test her English daily.
“I just need more practice,” said Flores, who feels ready.
Jin Wan, a native of China who became an American citizen two years ago, also credits her tutor, Susan Brich, for her success.
Wan immigrated five years ago as the spouse of an American citizen. Although she studied English in China, she still has a lot to learn.
Brich helped Wan improve her English and understand American culture. Thanks to her help, Wan was sworn as a citizen on June 16, 2010.
Today, Wan feels like a part of the community. A music major in college, she teaches singing and music classes. She also proudly celebrates Independence Day as her own holiday — something she didn’t do for the first two years in the country.
“I started celebrating it after I got to know America and the culture and the people,” Wan said.
“I love America,” she said. “The people here are so friendly and so generous. And the freedom is also very important.”