By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — While Clifton Park may not seem like the obvious go-to location for new immigrants to settle down, a community of immigrants that meet each week at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library are proving otherwise.
Nestled between the charming Saratoga Springs and the bustling city of Albany, Clifton Park is close to an ideal location for some newcomers to the Capital Region.
According to the 2010-2014 American Community Survey provided by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, US-born citizens make up about 94 percent of the Clifton Park population, leaving just 6 percent either naturalized U.S. citizens or non-citizens. View the Commission’s data here.
Sean MaGuire, the Director of Economic Development at the Capital District Regional Planning Commission noted the data’s large margin of error saying, “There’s a challenge with some of this data due to the small sample size.” He added, “The margins of error are one quarter of the count for “Not a U.S. citizen” which throws off the reliability of the data.”
A group of about 20 immigrants get together each Wednesday for conversational English classes with Victoria Weston at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. Weston, who has been volunteering in conjunction with Literacy Volunteers of the Greater Capital Region at the library for three years, noted she is part of a team of volunteers at the library who run the classes. The library also offers Classes on Mondays and Tuesdays. Linda Powell, Leslie Neely and Nancy Thompson all help with her Wednesday classes.
“At the moment we have a lot of students from Asia — Japan, South Korea, China, [and] Taiwan,” said Weston. She added, “a lot of the students are in themselves very highly qualified –doctors, civil engineers, engineers, teachers, etc…”
Before moving to Clifton Park, Weston was an elementary school teacher in the UK for 15 years. “I missed teaching once we moved and due to visa restrictions I couldn’t take any paid employment,” she said. Weston earned a certification to teach English as a foreign language and began teaching as a volunteer. Three years later, she’s still teaching at the library though she’s now able to work and is looking for a full-time job.
Weston said the most rewarding part of teaching English as a foreign language “is seeing the students progress from being quiet and unsure to gaining confidence in their English ability and becoming involved in the local community.”
She noted that the classes are more than just English classes. “The classes also serve as a place for the students to make lasting friendships which leads to lots of socializing!” she said. “There is a network of people from all over the world, including the teachers, and we can relate to each other because we have a lot in common, being far away from families and living in a different culture,” Weston added.
Irma Mendez moved to the United States from Costa Rica, where she worked in marketing, a year ago. “We came to Louisiana with the support of my family,” she said. She and her partner lived with her sister and nephews.
“My wife worked [for a] solar panel company in New Orleans and she had a job promotion and was transferred to New York. The company is in Halfmoon. We moved here to Clifton Park six months ago and we are so happy to live here!” she said.
She said the hardest part of moving was starting everything over from scratch. “ I miss the family and friends from Costa Rica and Louisiana,” she said.
Kiyoko Nakamoto moved to Fishkill, New York from Tokyo in 2009 before moving back to Japan in 2011. Three years later, she made her way to Clifton Park with her husband.
Some of the most difficult parts of moving to a foreign land include figuring out the banking system and renting an apartment, according to Nakamoto — a sentiment echoed by others in the class. Luckily, Nakamoto said she hasn’t had too much difficulty adjusting since “people helped us every time.” She said she’s thankful for the generosity and understanding locals have showed her and her family.
Nakamoto took English classes in Fishkill as well. She thinks it’s a good way to connect to the community. Initially she attended classes Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but now only attends once a week on Wednesdays. “One teacher recommended that I have to graduate the class and start volunteering,” she said. She has been volunteering with CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services in Clifton Park with Cheryl’s lodge, CAPTAIN’s Outreach Center, for nearly two years.
She said she’s grateful to her english teachers for helping her navigate day to day life in a new country. Now, she feels confident going to the store and ordering a small amount of meat from the deli.
When asked how she felt about the presidential election, Nakamoto said she thinks the American system is good because candidates listen to the people. “I saw on the news that a candidate spoke in a high school. It’s good because young [people] are becoming interested in their community,” she said.
We asked: “As an immigrant, do you feel like Clifton Park is a welcoming community? What do you like most about living in Clifton Park?”
“Clifton Park is welcoming 100 percent. We had no problems at all. The people are so good. Everything is close to home, all services near. We use the services of the library to [help us with] taxes for the first time and the English class, of course! The teachers are so generous. I like to share with my classmates [in] their experiences. It is a big support too, because I don’t have friends and family here.”
-Irma Mendez, who moved to Clifton Park from Costa Rica.
When asked whether she felt welcomed into the Clifton Park community, Nakamoto described being helped by neighbors and said “Of course, I could make friends in this community.” One of the biggest differences between her life in Tokyo and her life in Clifton Park is the wildlife. Nakamoto said Tokyo is very crowded and urban. After moving to Clifton Park, Nakamoto said, “I saw wild deer, squirrels, groundhogs and so on [for the first time.”
-Kiyoko Nakamoto, who moved from Japan to Clifton Park.