Question A6 on form N-400, the application to become a U.S. citizen, asked, "Do you have any title of nobility in any foreign country?"
Beth Fitzgerald, a volunteer helping immigrants decipher the bureaucratese at a workshop yesterday in Arlington, translated this for Maria R. Aguila, 51, a nurse's aide who lives in Falls Church.
"So," Fitzgerald said with a grin, "are you the queen of Bolivia?"
Aguila had had a worried look, but this made her laugh. "No, no," Aguila said. Satisfied, Fitzgerald moved on to the next questions: Was Aguila a communist, or maybe a Nazi?
The large room at the Arlington Mill Community Center on Columbia Pike was full of red, white and blue balloons bumping against the ceiling tiles as several community groups, led by Catholic Charities' Hogar Hispano organization, welcomed Afghans, Guatemalans, Peruvians, Hondurans and other immigrants to a cut-rate, $40-per-person consultation. The Hogar Hispano volunteers, with the help of staff lawyers, do this eight times a year, processing about 80 people every time, but yesterday was Citizenship Day, the 218th birthday of the Constitution, so they decided to make the session a party.
There were speeches and cakes and jokes about the Hogar Hispano staff, particularly naturalization coordinator Esmael Husseini, who came to the United States from Afghanistan 27 years ago and has helped more than 4,000 people become citizens, including many from his home country. His boss, Nancy Jane Shestack, Hogar Hispano's director, noted the cheers when Husseini's name was mentioned and said she had been asked whether she worked for Husseini. "I said, 'Yes, I do.' "
The applicants sat on folding chairs and waited to go over the forms with a volunteer. Some were so intent on the process that they kept at it even during the speeches, in which Shestack showed the pocket-sized, red-bound Constitution she carries with her, and Michael O'Rourke, associate director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, quoted "philosopher and balladeer" Willie Nelson:
Living in the promised land
Our dreams are made of steel
The prayer of every man
Is to know how freedom feels.
Freshta Nawabi, a Hogar Hispano job developer, said she was pleased to get her citizenship because it no longer took her an hour and a half to get through border checks. Shestack said the biggest attraction of citizenship for many was to be able to help relatives come here. The workshop was scheduled for 10 a.m., but clients were lining up at 8:30 a.m.
The Afghanistan-born Ansaris -- father Mir, 65, mother Lateefa, 47, son Syed, 26, and daughter Rekha, 19 -- sat in the first row. "I want to have the right to vote so I can decide on a nice person for president," said Rekha Ansari, a student at George Mason University.
Ignoring the cake, Fitzgerald and Aguila slogged through the 10-page form. "Do you belong to any terrorist organizations? You're not a terrorist? Good," Fitzgerald said, making a neat X in the No box. "Do you have a drinking problem? No beer for breakfast?" She again made an X in No.
Fitzgerald chided Aguila for missing a few English classes, telling Aguila that she would have to work on that before she was ready for the citizenship test. Fitzgerald, who is an executive secretary for Catholic Charities, attached gray tabs to a few pages with notes on questions that Aguila was unable to answer, such as the exact number of days she was out of the country on a recent trip.
Fitzgerald summoned Ken Balbuena or Jodi Nemser-Abrahams, young staffers fluent in Spanish, when she could not get a point across to Aguila. There was, for instance, question H39: Would Aguila be willing to perform work of national importance under civilian direction if the law required it? Balbuena translated this into Spanish and used an example. "How about being secretary of state?" he asked.
At least one naturalized citizen has served in that capacity. Aguila smiled. "Si!" she said.