A Miami Story: What Voting For The First Time Taught Me About My Parents
When I crouched over my ballot at the Lemon City public library last Friday, I had to keep telling myself "OK, you can do this." I don't know why I was so nervous. I guess I realized I had been waiting for that moment for seven years.
I'm 25-years-old, and this midterm election was the first one I've ever voted in.
That's not because I'm uninterested in politics, or uninformed about my rights. It's just that, until this past January, I didn't have the right to vote in the U.S. My family immigrated to Miami from Peru in 2000, and it took me this long to become a U.S. citizen.
So when all my friends were 18 or older in time for the 2008 presidential election, I was crestfallen. I didn't know anyone else of age who couldn't vote. I felt left out, yes. But I also ached to have a voice, to make a difference. I wanted all the things an idealistic 19-year-old wants out of their first election.
But I had to wait. I got used to going through election cycles without registering to vote, but always making sure to tell everyone else they should do it. Sometimes it made me angry to think of people who had the right but didn't vote (Peru enforces compulsory voting). I remember fighting with an old boyfriend about it.
For the most part, though, I was resigned to my un-electoral fate. As a journalist, it was really quite embarrassing to admit. We make a big deal out of elections, you may have noticed.
When my parents said they'd be able to fund my naturalization process, voting was immediately on my mind. So I guess I take it back, I do know why I was nervous in the voting booth. Casting a vote, to me, was the top of a ladder I'd been climbing almost since I moved here at 11 years old.
The ultimate U.S. citizen privilege is voting. And finally, it was mine.
It was a strange feeling. My hands were shaking and I was giddy, but the other voters around me seemed almost bored. Bothered, even, to have to be there. And even still, it was exciting to me to see members of my community lined up before the polling place opened. "My neighbors care!" I thought. But to them, the whole thing was run-of-the-mill.
Hear me talking to one of them here:
He put it best: "I always vote, it's normal."
Well, not for me, not yet. For me, having filled in those little circles on certain issues I cared about is greatly significant, and not just because of my ballot's political power.
My voting experience was also, in a sense, symbolic. I am the first one in my family to cast a vote in this country. That act signified my parents' progress, from modest immigrant family to middle-class residents who put their kids through college and participate in civic duty, if only through me.
Voting was emotional for me because it made me think about everything my parents have given up to get me in that polling place. To have the option of going there, instead of being forced to, like they were.
It's like my mom said when I called her after my vote. "You have the freedom to express yourself, or not."
Yep, I do, Ma. I do because of you.