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Philly’s New Americans Tour aims to help immigrants prepare to become citizens; will they care?

Sixty-two percent of the questions on the U.S. citizenship test have Philly roots.

That led Adriana Arvizo, a public relations manager at Visit Philadelphia — a tourism information site for the region — to propose the New Americans Tour, at the beginning of the year. The final product was announced today.

The tour, which comes in the form of a self-guided brochure, was created by Visit Philadelphia and the Mayor’s Office for Immigrants and Multicultural Affairs (MOIMA). It is being marketed as a way for those who are soon-to-become citizens as a study tool for the citizenship test. The brochure is in English, though it is also offered in other languages like Spanish and Chinese. (Coming next month: An app, featuring QR codes.)

The tour features 13 locations, four of them free, including the Liberty Bell and the President’s House. It offers brief explanations of each spot and tells the reader what to do there, like “listen to a costumed Betsy reenactor” who will “regale you with tales of her life as a Colonial working woman.”

The fact that the tour exists is a nod by the city officials toward the explosive growth in its immigrant population, up 40 percent since 2000. In part, that’s why Philadelphia is growing again, for the first time in 60 years.

But many today did not even stay for the whole tour, led by Philadelphia on Foot guide Ed Mauger which followed its official unveiling. On a brisk 40-degree day, the 40 or so immigrants who were brought by the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians shuffled off after a short while. Why? The tour was in English and many had limited English skills. Others also had obligations in the afternoon, like having to pick up their kids from school.

Proponents believe the tour offers a perspective that can be more valuable than those found in the history books.

“Some people love the history, some people love the old buildings, they really respond to that,” Frances Heron, an instructor at the Welcoming Center, said, adding that one man she talked to today raved about the old architecture he saw in the city.

“If I was someone who was studying to become a citizen I think it would be cool to see the sites in person,” Rosemary Santos, a development associate at the Welcoming Center, who attended the tour, said. “If you’re someone who’s new to the country, I think it would be a really cool thing.”

Da Wen Zhen, an immigrant from China who attended the event with her class from the Welcoming Center, agreed, saying that if she or a friend was preparing for the citizenship test, she would tell them to try to do the self-guided tour since the Welcoming Center.

But, Heron added, “it’s an extra, (and) it wouldn’t replace studying the questions, studying the history.”

How realistic is it then to expect people to come and pick up a brochure to educate themselves?

“I think this is a great idea, but I feel like it’s not easy for people to be motivated to take a tour like this,” confessed Elizabeth Wang, an Education and Career adviser at the Welcoming Center. She said that if she only had the brochure as a guide, it would be hard to fully understand all the history that is encompassed in the 13 places listed.

Da told Billy Penn that though the idea is “quite good,” she doesn’t think that other Chinese immigrants would come do the tour by themselves. “Even if they do understand English, they wouldn’t be interested in coming here,” Zhen said in Mandarin, “because even when they are (taking an English-language tour), they wouldn’t understand it.”

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