An American votes for 'first time'
By Tom Larson
LiSandra Sperr picked up her election ballot at the Ward 1B poll at the Evangelical Free Church Tuesday morning.
Sperr hesitantly approached the curtained privacy booth, then headed around to the back side of the booth. Election judge Chuck Grussing helped her out, telling her to come around to the front side.
Sperr wore a sheepish smile as she entered the booth.
"First time," she said, quietly.
Not the first time voting in her relatively new city. Not the first time voting in a new precinct.
LiSandra Sperr was voting for the first time as a U.S. citizen.
"I just want to say thank you to everyone in this community who adopted me like a daughter," she said.
LiSandra met her husband, Morris resident Greg Sperr, when he was vacationing in her native Dominican Republic on Thanksgiving night in 2001. Greg wooed her and some of her family with a rose and a trip to a Pizza Hut.
The couple built their relationship through emails and telephone calls, with LiSandra getting help from a translator on her end of the line.
In 2003, LiSandra moved to Morris on a fiancee visa. The couple had 90 days to get married, and the work needed to secure permanent status began.
"Oooh," she said. "It was a long process."
After the Sperrs wed, LiSandra lived in the U.S. under a two-year resident visa, then had a choice to make: Either continue living in the U.S. under a permanent resident visa which is valid for 10 years, or apply for citizenship. LiSandra chose the latter.
She received a CD and a large packet of information to study. An avid reader, LiSandra already had a good grasp of English, both spoken and written, but there were about 100 questions she needed to master for the citizenship test.
"It's like a civics test," Greg said. "That was more stressful than anything. As citizens, we spend our whole lives learning civics."
"I learned American history in two months," LiSandra said.
Because she was so adept at speaking and writing English, LiSandra's oral test in Bloomington, Minn., consisted of just five questions and she nailed them.
"They said, 'OK, she's ready,' " Greg said.
LiSandra was granted U.S. citizenship in 2007, and her 11-year-old son, Jose, recently earned his citizenship. The couple's other two children, Ethan, 5, and Alexander, 2, were born in the U.S.
LiSandra and her children are still considered citizens of the Dominican Republic, which is important to her.
"I wanted that because I love my country," she said.
And since she called learning English "the hardest thing I've done in my life," she's devoted herself to helping other Spanish speakers in the community as a translator. She'll be called to help with translation during hospital visits, grocery shopping and other tasks.
And she said she is beholden to those in the community who helped her by hiring her at the University of Minnesota, Morris and at the Morris Area School District.
"I say thank you to those people because they said yes," LiSandra said. "I have angels here because they said yes."