Where were you on Election Day?

I hope that you were voting and making your voice heard. Around the country, volunteers from SAALT and other organizations from the Asian American community were at poll sites, protecting the vote and learning more about the voting choices and barriers faced by Asians. It was my first time being an election monitor and I was assigned to a poll site in Silver Spring, MD (which is in the suburbs of Washington, DC). It was an amazing experience on a number of levels. First and foremost, it was very powerful to see so many people after they had exercised their right to vote. It was the culmination of a long, and sometimes emotional, election cycle and you could feel the excitement in the air.

I saw a lot of people with smiles on their faces. Another notable trend was families coming in to vote together in which the children were voting for the first time. As they filled out surveys, I could see the pride in the parents’ eyes. I moved to the United States when I was twelve years old. My family had previously lived in Saudi Arabia, which was an interesting experience all around, but there was a palpable difference when we came to America. This was a place where people settled, not just a place to pass through. It was not immediate, but America became home. And when I became a citizen in 2006, I was old enough to have really chosen become an “American”. I knew when I said that oath in the courthouse in Chicago that, in a fundamental way, my place in the world had shifted.

Even though I had the opportunity to vote in the 2006 midterm elections, I was beside myself with excitement about voting in my first presidential elections: to be making this huge, meaningful choice along with my fellow Americans (a decision that I knew from personal experience reverberated well beyond the US) was something I had looked forward to for a very long time. In my family there are American citizens, permanent residents, H1-B and student visa-holders and Bangladeshi citizens. I voted absentee in the District of Columbia, so it wasn’t the whole Election Day experience, but when I stood in my little voting booth, I felt my whole family there with me and I did my best to make sure my vote reflected that.

I don’t know if it is the same for other immigrants and children of immigrants, but the very act of voting felt like some small but vital portion of my parents’ dreams and my dreams becoming a reality. Being an election monitor and seeing people of all races and ethnicities, of different ages and socioeconomic statuses seemed a quiet and powerful affirmation of American democracy at work. On a very practical level, being there to help document any problems or issues with voting helped me contribute to a better understanding of Asian Americans as a voting population. This information not only helps us understand our community better, it informs policymakers and politicians about the issues that matter to us. I know that I will remember November 4th, 2008 for the rest of my life and I hope that the work that I and all the other election monitors can make a similar impact on our community’s future.

We’re going to put up some more posts about people’s experiences with election monitoring so keep a look out for them.