An immigrant living in Charlotte says her father is the only family member eligible to vote, so she makes sure others know what’s at stake in this election.
I’m not voting in this election.
As a permanent resident born and raised in Mexico, I’m not eligible to vote.
But Charlotte is my home, and the decisions made by our county commissioners, state representatives, Governor, and President have as much an impact on my life as any other North Carolinian.
Instead, I’m working to get as many other young North Carolinians as possible registered to vote and committed to cast their ballots this fall.
That’s why I’m working as a campus fellow with NextGen North Carolina, a progressive organization dedicated to mobilizing the youth vote, to amplify the power of my voice through the actions of my peers.
I was still living in Mexico when Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Already engrossed in U.S. and global politics, I had been acting like a political pundit at school, telling anyone who would listen that there was no way Trump would become president.
I stayed up until two in the morning waiting for election results, and when the race was finally called, I sat at my computer in shock before walking into my mother’s room to shake her awake.
“Mamá, él ganó.”
Mom, he won, I remember saying to her, before I even realized I was crying. I thought about my dad, living in Greensboro at the time, who would soon be getting ready to apply for U.S. citizenship, now under a Trump presidency — Trump, who called Mexicans who immigrated to the U.S. rapists, criminals and drug dealers.
Long before my dad dreamed of moving to the U.S. or sponsoring his daughter — who would become the first woman in his family to go to college — to join him there, he was growing up in a poor family in Mexico City.
He graduated from a public university with an engineering degree and earned a job with a trans-national company, and my mom, who learned English as a child, would bounce my brother and me on her knee while she helped my Spanish-speaking dad translate calls from the company’s headquarters.
“I may not be able to cast my ballot, but for every young person I convince to cast theirs, I’m getting us one step closer to the vision of the world my generation deserves.”
Later, he traveled to Canada to learn English so he could climb further up the career ladder, eventually being offered a visa sponsorship to move to Puerto Rico and then to North Carolina. In 2018, he gained full U.S. citizenship.
He’s living what many hail as the American Dream. But that doesn’t stop strangers from seeing his brown skin and echoing the racist jabs they hear from the White House, questioning whether he belongs here, or snapping that he should go back to his own country.
Growing up, being Mexican wasn’t my defining trait; it simply was.
Now that I call the U.S. my home, just like my dad, my brown skin and the way I pronounce my name are now my identity.
Our jobs, my schooling, my dream of working in international relations, what we love about living in Charlotte — those all come second behind our birthplace, a reduction that has only become more pronounced with each and every step Donald Trump takes to strip the humanity of immigrants.
Living under the Trump presidency as an immigrant means living with uncertainty. The anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies pushed by his administration not only cause my family anxiety about my green card status and future citizenship application, they cause us distress as the targets of hate and mistrust.
When my classmate wears a red MAGA hat to school, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a political statement or a glaring warning to me, telling me I don’t belong. Even while writing this op-ed, I’m struck by uneasiness.Will my political activity affect my or or my brother’s immigration status, even here in the land of free speech?
If I could vote, I’d probably have already returned my absentee ballot in the mail with the bubbles filled in for Joe Biden, Cal Cunningham, Roy Cooper, and candidates up and down the ballot who are committed to honoring the diverse immigrant community and not tearing us down.
But I can’t.
So as a fellow with NextGen, I tell my story to potential voters every day. I ask them to consider the common issues we care about — cost of college, affordable healthcare, earning a living wage, and yes, racial justice and immigrant rights — and explain to them that even though we both stand to benefit or hurt from the policies our elected officials craft, I don’t get a say in who calls the shots.
I may not be able to cast my ballot, but for every young person I convince to cast theirs, I’m getting us one step closer to the vision of the world my generation deserves.
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