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.