On this Election Day, I am pondering how much America is changing and how much it is changing me. The earliest recollection I have of the political process is the 1992 election in which Ross Perot ran for president. I was 6 years old. This was long before I had an overwhelming cultural awareness, and certainly before I spoke Spanish. Twenty years ago, this country was not plagued with worry about how well the government would represent Latinos, and hearing a Spanish campaign ad was as rare as finding a decent Spanish radio station. Although I knew a few Latinos at the time, I never could’ve imagined the impact this demographic would have on the future of the country, and on my own life.

As someone who studied political science in college, I like to delve into the grand symbolism of each candidate’s ideology and why masses of people can be corralled into a two-party system. I see voting as a civic duty that we have to perform in order to take advantage of government services in exchange, not necessarily as something personally meaningful.

However, this election is the first that has made me look around and realize what a large stake some people put in their right to vote in America. I remember that I have never lived in a country in which this kind of participation is impossible. I have never lived in, for example, any part of Latin America that has been ravaged by civil war and ruled by militant means. My memories are of my parents watching the news, discussing amendments, and taking me along to the polls. Not exactly a gut-wrenching argument for the importance of the democratic process… at least not in the way that a dangerous political past can be. I realize that a lot of the people standing in line beside me — immigrants in particular — are there because they are moved by more than just a sense of duty.

My daily exposure to so many people who were not born in this country is shifting my view. I’m starting to understand, if slowly, why voting is not just a responsibility. I do experience something almost magical standing in line (sometimes for hours) with other average people who are all empowered by the feeling of bubbling in a ballot. Maybe this is the most powerful thing I’ll ever feel about my right to vote, since I can’t generate memories of a home in which this isn’t possible. I wouldn’t volunteer to switch places with someone who lives under a despotic government, but I am grateful for the opportunity to live vicariously through each person who has an even more sentimental connection to America than I, a native American, do.

As I watch white Americans like myself become the minority in the near future, I hope I can remember — even if it’s only once every four years — that America means different things to different people, but all of those things are equally relevant.

{Photo by Vox Efx}

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