Thursday, June 30, 2016

proof of the pudding

Once upon a time, an American (or any other nationality, as far as I know) living in Mexico could become a Mexican citizen by submitting two cereal box tops and a shiny quarter -- or something like that.

Two of my favorite writers in Michoacán took advantage of the offer and now enjoy all of the benefits of calling themselves "Mexican." But that was then, and this is now. Becoming a member of the club is a bit more difficult.

Yesterday, I learned a lot more about the process. I drove my friends Ed (the artist whose paintings adorn my anonymous house) and Roxane to Colima to witness Ed finish another step in his naturalization process. For a couple of years, he has been gathering up the necessary documentation that must accompany his application -- only to have time-limited documents expire because something new was added to the list.

We were in Colima to check off one of those new requirements: number 8 on the list -- "Evidence that the applicant can speak Spanish." In the past that has meant the naturalization clerk had a conversation with the applicant, and would then subjectively determine whether the applicant was adequately conversant in Spanish to show that he was "integrated into the national culture."

The requirement makes perfect sense. If you want to be part of a nation, you should, at a minimum, be able to converse with your fellow citizens.

In the last year or so, the meaning of the requirement has changed. The naturalization clerk does not make the call. Instead, the applicant must submit a certification indicating the level of the speaker's proficiency in Spanish.

The test here is administered by the University of Colima foreign language school. After a bit of sleuthing, Ed called the school and set an appointment.

Because this is Mexico, nothing is quite as simple as that last sentence. No one in the office knew the school's address. Someone was eventually able to provide him with a street and number. The campus with that address appears at the top of this essay. But it is not where we needed to be.

A very helpful security guard was directed us to the correct campus -- a 15-minute drive away. If you are going to take the language test for naturalization around here, this is the sign you are looking for.

I have heard so many tales about this test that I wanted to see it in action -- in the hope of verifying that the people who have reassuringly told me "it is no big deal" are correct. Well, I have my answer.

The test administrator allowed Roxane and me to sit in the examination room for Ed's test. The first portion of the test is oral -- an impromptu extended conversation designed to elicit answers showing a grasp of different verb tenses, appropriate vocabulary, and abstract themes.

The second part of the test is on the computer. I did not see any of the questions, but Ed described it it as quite difficult. There were the usual tricky choices between the preterite and the past imperfect -- along with subtle variations of the subjunctive. That test took about an hour.

I should add that the computerized test continues as long as the person taking it continues to answer question correctly. After all, it is designed to evaluate expertise.

While Ed took the test, the woman administering it talked with Roxane to determine her level of expertise. Roxane did so well in the conversation, she was not required to take the computer test.

Roxane, in white, converses with the test administrator while Ed taps away in the background on a keyboard.
For the payment of $150 (Mx) -- $8.11 (US) -- each, both of them were certified as having a rather high knowledge of Spanish. But we all knew that before they took the test. It was simply another item to check off of the naturalization list.

We then drove to the naturalization office -- in the expectation that Ed would be able to submit his application. It was not to be. The first hurdle was discovering the office had moved from the central plaza to a building about 20 minutes north in the suburbs.

That was not a problem. Off we went to the new office. (Mind you, Ed had talked with the clerk several times recently. Not once did she mention the office had moved.)

I will tell you more about Ed's adventure with the clerk in a later essay. It should help explain how 10 checklist steps with clear instructions can turn into a Kafkaesque slog. Suffice it to say, Ed still has a couple of tasks to accomplish -- and the walls of bureaucracy remain unbreached.

But I did get to meet the clerk who, in a mere twenty months, will be processing my application for naturalization. That must be worth something.

After seeing the Spanish test evaluation, I have decided to take a break from my language classes. I want to start spending a bit more time in the local community listening and talking. There is no doubt I will need to hit the books before my Spanish abilities are evaluated by the University of Colima.

For now, though, I want to start putting to use what I do know.

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