Jerome Maquiling was at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville on Dec. 15 competing in the We the People Championship for T.C. Williams High School. At the same time, his mother, Lourdes Sinoben Maquiling, was in Fairfax County taking the citizenship oath with 411 other people. It had been 18 years since she'd come to this country and 13 since she had applied for her green card.
Jerome said he spent "countless hours at night with the pros and cons of where he should be that day, which is beneficial, what should I do. She didn't want me to get a bad grade and my teammates counted on me. We were considering maybe after I finished with the competition I could go there, but I was a very long way away.”
"I wanted Jerome by my side. I told him, 'it was up to you,'” his mother said. “It was hard for him, too. Jerome is very quiet, so it was good for him to have the confidence to talk about immigration. When he told me he didn't want to disappoint his teammates who depended on him, I understood."
The We the People is an honors class designed to promote civic competence and responsibility among the nation's elementary and secondary students. The curriculum is an innovative course of instruction on the history and principles of the United States constitutional democratic republic and helps students prepare for the competition.
Jerome's topic was immigration policy. "I know what it's like; it's close to my heart." Jerome was a member of a four-person T.C. team charged with a four-minute presentation among them. He said they worked on it together, and timing was an important piece. In one minute "well, 50 seconds" Jerome discussed what changes should be made to the immigration system.
He says his three points were the necessity to lessen the burden on how long it takes to become a citizen, the idea that instead of imprisonment at the Mexican border ICE could use ankle bracelets and monitoring which would be more humane and cost effective, and finally there should be education before people get here.
Jerome had spent several months preparing for the competition and at the same time quizzing his mother on the questions for her naturalization exam. He said applicants for citizenship have to memorize 100 questions for the exam.
Lourdes Sinoben Maquiling says they asked her, "If the President and Vice President cannot fulfill their duty, who is in charge?" Then after she answered the question correctly they asked her the name of the current Speaker of the House. They also asked her to write a sentence in English about Columbus Day and to read a paragraph "to see if I could read and write."
Jerome's team was part of a group of 41 seniors from T.C. Williams who competed against teams from 28 high schools in the region and will now advance to the state competition Jan. 31. He says after his mom's ceremony was over, "she picked me up at school and we just talked and talked about what happened." Lourdes Sinoben Maquiling said when they came toward her in the ceremony to give her the plaque everybody was crying. After long years of waiting her American dream had come true. "The gym was packed, so it was very emotional."
Lourdes Sinoben Maquiling had come to this country with an American couple living in Japan, where she had worked as their nanny. "They wanted me to come here with them when they moved back, so I worked for them and applied for my green card in 2005." She finally received her green card in 2011 and then had to wait another five years for her citizenship. She said, "I feel so blessed to be part of this country. But I wish…it was not so long to become a citizen."