Ballot blues: Living as a foreign national with a love of politics
Like many others in the U.S., politics have become a daily part of my thought process this year. But there remains one critical problem: I can’t vote.
I’m not an American. I was born in Mexico, immigrated with my family to New York when I was six months old and have resided here ever since.
I live in the U.S., I speak with an American accent and I even have intimate knowledge of all the nitpicky social cues that come with living in this country. It is painful not to have a say in the direction of what, I hope, will be my permanent home.
My first discomfort was the reaction to feeling excluded from a basic American right. It seemed that at 18, my friends and peers were backing their social and political statements with voter registration.
However, years of observation have shown me that it would be very rare to see any of them make their way to a polling location.
To me it was more than an opportunity wasted, but a duty disregarded.
Since then, I have matured by stepping away from a “my rights versus their rights” mentality.
However, this led me to a frightening observation: many Americans are staggeringly uninformed about American politics.
I found it baffling that, while nearly everyone domestic and foreign to the United States could name the big public figures such as presidents and vice presidents, almost none of my friends or peers could name one local official, or even a senator. There also seems to be a common misconception of the powers and limitations of various types of elected officials.
As difficult as it was seeing a contrast of rights between my peers and I, or the brash lack of knowledge regarding the roles and figureheads of politics, the worst part of not being able to vote is the feeling of helplessness – especially when changes are made by politicians that do not share my values.
I still participate in social events of a political nature, such as rallies and protests, but there is no substitute for participating in such an influential part of the American experience.
Educational and social grievances aside, I know that there are other people who see the true value in voting.
Participation in the democratic processes has never been easy for me. This fact is particularly true for those who are on the brink of full inclusion. A lifetime of watching the American political machine work molded me into a well-educated, opinionated and dedicated member of American society, that can’t vote.
Carlos Leyte is a staff writer for the features desk and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org