Why citizenship? For this Chilean immigrant, Philadelphia is home - Generocity Philly


Oct. 30, 2017 12:55 pm

Why citizenship? For this Chilean immigrant, Philadelphia is home

Karla Martin came to the United States last year for love. But she's found that she loves her new city, too, which is why she's participating in Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians' Citizenship in Action program.

The "Amor" statue at Sister Cities Park on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

(Photo by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia)

This is a guest post by Immigrant Leadership Institute participant Karla Martin.
My name is Karla.

I am 27 and I am from Chile. I have been living in Philadelphia for a year.  I work at a public health organization as a case manager, although my background is in social research. I am currently part of the Citizenship in Action program at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.

I am building my roots in Philadelphia.

I grew up in a working class family in the south periphery of Santiago, Chile. I came to Philadelphia for love. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I grew up in a busy city with eight million people, so I needed that city lifestyle. When I first came to Philadelphia, I really had no expectations. I took a leap and risked everything I had back at home to come live here. I found myself in a new scenario where I had to build my networks, meet new people, make friends and start to build a new life. It was like starting from zero but it was exciting and very challenging. This experience has taught me a lot and I have grown as a person and become more resilient. I’ve pushed myself and realized I had the ability to start over again.

I realized what Philadelphia really meant to me on my last visit to Chile. Even though I was happy being back home, when I got back to Philadelphia, I realized how much I had missed it. I remember saying, “This is my home now. This is my city.” That was the exact moment I discovered that I felt a part of this city. I go back to Chile for vacation, but I am building my roots here. I also felt a sense of belonging when I found a Chilean community living here, sharing the same experiences as I do as an an immigrant. That was a big step toward feeling I belong here because I have a community I can lean on that shares my culture.

I go back to Chile for vacation, but I am building my roots here.

With this feeling, I began to help others. I have been able to do work with a lot of communities and different types of populations. As part of my first job in the U.S. I helped people from different backgrounds understand their health benefits. This allowed me to have a deeper understanding of how the city functions. My work focused primarily on health care but soon I found out this is related to a lot of other issues, such as housing. People who are disenfranchised don’t feel empowered, especially immigrants. They were afraid to appeal denials when they applied for the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) or Medicaid for their children. Currently, I work with a substance use population who are homeless.

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Citizenship to me is stability and a sense of security.

I am considering applying for citizenship because with citizenship, I will be able to have more rights and it will give me a sense of security, especially under the current administration. A lot of people are afraid of only having permanent residency and feel citizenship could give them more stability and protection from deportation.

As a citizen, I can also improve the quality of life of people. My family is in Chile and my mom is by herself and I would like to bring her here so I can be closer to her. Also, you can gain other rights such as the right to vote and this could contribute to increased civic engagement. Citizenship to me is stability and a sense of security. It’s not that I don’t feel safe, but it allows you to have more rights and protection under the Constitution, in a different way than being just a permanent resident. It’s kind of weird but citizenship does put you in a different level in U.S. society.

The good thing for me is, being from Chile, I can have dual citizenship. It would be harder for me to decide if I wouldn’t be allowed to have both nationalities.

As an immigrant, I can contribute a different perspective.

Recently, a friend visited me and I showed her around. Living in Philadelphia is very interesting. There is so much history here. But like every big city, it faces various issues, such as poverty, social and cultural issues, and segregation in schools. All of this can be improved. Philadelphia has that special magic and we can contribute to change it and make a difference for the better. There is a lot of work to be done, and we need people to be organized. As an immigrant, I can contribute a different perspective and bring new ideas. Try out how we do things in other places, like in Latin America. Some of the lessons and experiences we have learned can be useful.

If I could change one thing about Philadelphia, I would focus on education in public schools.

If I could change one thing, I would focus on education in public schools because that’s the base of society.  If we can expand access and improve the quality of education, it will make a better society in the end. We can start by early childhood education, through high school and all the way to college. It’s crucial that we can focus on developing programs to provide accessible and public education to all. Currently, access to education is determined by your economic status and intrinsically related to the ZIP code you live in.

I would focus particularly on immigrants, so they can be integrated in the school community. In my experience and from what I’ve heard, a lot of immigrant parents don’t get involved as much in their children’s education. This might be for different reasons, but the reality is they are left out of the education of their children. This is not fair, especially if they don’t speak English and don’t understand how the system works. There has to be a public program that can focus on integrating them into the school community and make them have a voice and be part of their children’s education.

If this doesn’t happen, I believe inequality is going to become deeper and affect the quality of life for everyone. If there is discrimination, people are not going to feel integrated here and that can influence immigrants to leave the city and go to live where they may feel more welcomed.

Immigrants need to come together and build communities and build neighborhoods. We need to empower ourselves. We share face the same inequalities and we can make our voices heard.  If we don’t become involved no one is going to change things for us.

It is important to start taking action right away and not wait until I am a full citizen.

I am currently participating in the Immigrant Leadership Institute, which is part of the Citizenship in Action program at Welcoming Center.  It is exciting to be in a team developing action projects that can have an impact. Although we come from different backgrounds, we have one thing that unite us: We all share the same experiences and it’s crucial that we know we’re not alone in this process of integration to a new culture and life.

For the little time that I’ve been here I have come to truly appreciate and love the city, and all the people and its diversity. I feel very moved to organize here because I feel like this is going to be my home now. It is important to start taking action right away and not wait until I am a full citizen. Because we are all living here and we have to take care of our city. I didn’t grow up here. I chose to live here and I don’t want to be passive knowing all the things that need to be fixed.


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