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June 14th, 2021

vazquez with motherLocal citizenship instructor Janeth Vazquez, right, celebrates with her mother, Beatriz Cuellar, after Cuellar finished her citizenship test recently. Vazquez taught Cuellar in her most recent class. Courtesy photoROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times


Over the last few years, Janeth Vazquez has taught many people citizenship through a class at Seward County Community College.

The class helps immigrants earn their American citizenship, preparing them for the test they must take before gaining the status.

Recently, Vazquez had a special pupil in her class. Her mother, Beatriz Cuellar, took citizenship under the tutelage of her daughter, and while she is excited for all of her students, Vazquez was particularly so for her mother to take her class.

“It’s been a dream for all my family for my mom to get her citizenship,” Vazquez said. “I will say at the very beginning, she was very nervous, and she was scared. She almost didn’t want to come to class because she felt it was going to be very difficult for her to get her citizenship. I ended up convincing her to come along, and in the end, she ended up doing really good and taking her exam.”

Cuellar was a citizen of Mexico, and since then she has become a citizen of the U.S., where she has been since 1989. So with all of the nervousness Cuellar had, how did Vazquez convince her mother to take citizenship?

“I think I didn’t give her an option,” she said jokingly. “As a citizenship instructor, I pretty much didn’t give her an option. I told her that was the only reason I was going to teach the class one more semester. My goal was to teach the class up until my mom became a citizen. I didn’t give her an option. I told her she had to come.”

However, even though her mother has now become a citizen, Vazquez said she plans to continue teaching the class.

“At the time, I wasn’t sure,” she said. “I had taken one semester off. I’m still teaching it. When I first started teaching these classes, I said I’m going to teach up until my mom becomes a citizen, but that was the ultimate goal.”

Being her mother’s instructor is something Vazquez said was both fun and different.

“It was different role being her daughter versus being her teacher,” she said. “It’s funny. She took the class with my aunt, and sometimes, they would get really chatty. I would have to get on to them, but it was overall fun. It was a more special class just because of teaching my mom, but it was also funny because it’s now her daughter telling her what to do.”

Most parents have to check to see if their teenage students are doing their homework, and Vazquez said she had to apply similar measures with her mother.

“I did have to tease her about doing her homework,” she said. “I also had to get on to her to do her homework, and I also had to get on to her during class to stay on track. Sometimes, she would engage in conversation with my aunt, and they would just get laid back.”

Cuellar finished her civics, reading and writing tests a few weeks ago, passing all three, and Vazquez was with her throughout that process as well.

“I took her to her biometrics, and I took her to her exam,” she said. “She was really very nervous for both of them, but of course, she was very, very nervous for her actual exam. When she came out, she said, ‘I cannot believe they only asked me six questions.’ I’m like, ‘Mom that’s a good thing. That means you got all six questions correct the first time.’ Her response was, ‘Yeah but I studied all 100.’”

As she had learned all of the material asked on citizenship tests, Cuellar seemed to want to answer more questions than she was asked, something Vazquez found amusing.

“I started laughing because she wanted them to ask her more questions,” she said. “She studied so hard. She was nervous, but she was confident. The last two weeks, I was really strict. I made her sit down for an hour ever single night, and I would quiz her and give her short exams.”

Vazquez said all of her students are special to her.

“They’re very dear to my heart and close to my heart because when I see a student, I envision my family,” she said. “I envision my grandpa, who was my biggest motivator to get me to teach this class. I envision my aunts, my moms. I feel helping them achieve a lifelong dream is a very special feeling I can’t even describe. It makes me tearful just thinking about it. I know how hard they worked to be in this country and how hard they worked to accomplish this milestone.”

Having Cuellar as part of her class, though, was particularly special for Vazquez, especially when she finished the test.

“As soon as she came out, I just hugged her and cried,” she said. “This has been not just a dream for me, but a dream for my sisters and I. We finally feel more at peace. We feel more calm, more security and extremely proud of my mom. She put a lot of her goals and aspirations in life on hold for us to help me and my three younger sisters get through school. She put all of these dreams and aspirations on hold for us to finish our school first. Seeing my mom being able to do something for herself for once is a very good feeling. I’m happy for her and thankful and appreciative for everything she’s done. She risked her life coming to this country to give my sisters better opportunities, a better life. Now finally, she has something to recompensate herself for all her hard work.”

At this time, Cuellar works cleaning homes and businesses, and she eventually plans to back to school to get her GED.

“She had initially had put all of these on hold for my sisters and I because she had to work and help us get to school,” Vazquez said. “Three of us already graduated from college. We have one younger sister who’s in high school. Now that’s she’s older and my mom now has more free time for herself, she does want to go back and get her GED. Ultimately, she wants to have her own business. She wants to open up her own day care in the future.”

Having taught many people citizenship, Vazquez said the biggest asset to finishing the class is courage.

“A lot of the students are scared to start the process,” she said. “They’re scared to take the class. They’re scared not to learn the material. It takes courage just to get to the classroom. From there, we work on all of the other obstacles they  face to get them through citizenship, but I would say the number one thing is courage and overcoming the fear and getting that confidence booster they need.”

As Cuellar has put her education on hold for years, Vazquez said her mother getting her citizenship has been a long time in coming.

“It’s 30 plus years of waiting for this day and waiting for her to have a pathway to residency and pathway to citizenship,” she said. “Otherwise, she would have done this a long time ago.”

Vazquez said she and her sisters summed up what their mother accomplished in just a few words.

“We did it,” she said. “We finally did it.”

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