The Immigrant Vote

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting

“I know that I say this at the risk of over-sentimentalizing electoral politics, but seeing immigrants vote is the best thing about America” Annie Rebekah Gardner

I have two friends who voted for the first time on Tuesday. Both of them just became American citizens. One is from Romania and the other from South Africa. They were both elated.

It was a Big.Deal!

In the voting queue I was in back of a couple. As they talked with the man beside them it became clear that they too were voting for the first time as American citizens. In the early morning rush to the polls, as people waited in a line that went out the door and down the block, they were excited, engaged, happier then everyone around them.

My daughter Annie was behind a gentleman from Somalia, in line with his little girl, in line to voteSomalia has not had a functioning effective government for years. While I don’t know this gentleman’s story, I’ve heard other immigrant/refugee stories of walking to refugee camps, avoiding terrorist attacks, famine and disease. It’s a picture that we sitting on comfortable couches on this Saturday morning, or out to breakfast with friends, or getting our early morning shopping done at massive grocery stores with every imaginable food available,  cannot imagine. For him, voting was a big deal!

Voting was a gift.

It’s yet another lesson I learn from my immigrant friends. They take none of this for granted. They go and cast their votes with pride and excitement – not with disillusionment in a party and a process. They are fully engaged in this process and wear their new citizenship with the pride of belonging.

The immigrant vote keeps us grounded and honest. Newcomers to the United States have a different worldview and first-hand experience in countries where the freedom to vote is not a guarantee; not a right.

The phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” is overused and because of this it is under appreciated. But there’s nothing like being at a polling booth, with no fear of guns or bombs or violence, waiting in line with immigrants who have walked a long journey to get to the ballot box, to make one really proud to be part of this “Nation of Immigrants”

And so I salute you my immigrant friends – particularly those who have voted for the first time. You’ve walked a long journey to get to this place. Thanks for encouraging and challenging me. We are so lucky to have you in this country.

4 thoughts on “The Immigrant Vote

  1. Thanks Annie for your quoted comment, and Marilyn, for the post. Very soon after we had returned here from Pakistan, your Dad/Grandpa was in the hospital after major surgery. We watched the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush in his hospital room. We noted the ex-presidents in attendance, and he started to weep. Just before leaving Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto had been elected as president or Prime Minister (they changed governments so often, I have a hard time remembering which she was!) Her father, an ex-prime minister had been executed while in prison. Just before her election, President Zia-ul-haq’s plane went down and he was killed along with a number of other leaders. No former PM or President was on the scene – all had been killed or jailed or forced into exile. And here, we watch the peaceful transfer of power. We honor our presidents after they leave office. They are allowed to live in freedom and to continue to serve their country. We do take our liberty and our democracy, messy as it is, for granted. May God help us to appreciate these blessings, and to preserve them for generations to come.

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    1. Mom – what a great story! I have never thought about the peaceful transition of power, probably because I so take it for granted. It makes me more determined to ride out election 2016 in another country.

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  2. Love this! In Sept. 2008 we visited DC and met several recent immigrants. The conversations we had with them served as gentle reminders of how fortunate we are to have a stable government. Sometimes, those of us who live in more rural, homogeneous communities forget the value other world views bring to our own ideals and culture. Thank you for this reminder. :-)

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    1. Dawn – it’s through conversations that I too have learned so much and gained so much. My friend Mariuca who is one of the people who got to vote for the first time said she felt such a sense of belonging – so cool. Thanks too for tweeting the post. As I said – it was a huge honor.

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