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The Carletonian

My Parents, the Non- Voters: When Voting Isn’t an Option (Yet)

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Over the past decade, I’ve asked my parents at different points the same question: “Have you ever voted before?” I believe I asked them this every other November. I also thought that as adults, they have exercised their civic duties and have gone out to vote. Somehow, I manage to forget they already told me the answer, up until recently. “No, we never went out to vote.” They would explain, “We never got involved because we didn’t feel like it would have any effect on how things go.” Mind you, we’re not talking about your red-white-and-blue electoral politics stateside, my parents said.

You have to wonder what can demotivate people from voting in a different political environment. Living in the U. S. for eleven years has made it easy for me to forget that electoral politics, and governance in general, in the Republic of the Philippines is in a more sordid state on several levels than electoral politics is here. This is true despite the fact it has been three decades since the popular over- throw of the American-backed regime of Ferdinand Marcos. My parents grew up in the shadow of Marcos, who plunged the country into repressive martial law, such that they can say that they only knew one president growing up as kids. Imagine saying that here: the last time one grew up like that was when FDR was president! And even with the optimism that came when Marcos was overthrown, progress often seemed undercut by any number of obstacles.

Who can blame my parents about not voting? Growing up in Manila, I remember not going to school for nearly a week in January of 2001 in 1st grade. You could have seen all the reasons yourself on TV; another popular revolution was out in the streets, with the military and the Church in tow, for all the cameras to see. Since then, I’ve remembered news reports, even after our family migrated to the States, of regular calls for impeachment for whoever was president (more often than you hear calls for Obama’s impeachment), and foiled mutinies and coups. When you sum the total of moments of “instability,” graft and corruption, nepotism, and conspiracy, you could see how my parents felt electoral politics to be a pipe dream.

It hasn’t helped that we aren’t citizens, yet. It’s a federal crime to vote as a non-citizen, even as permanent residents. So elections passed us by, leaving us to sit in the national peanut gallery, gawking at the television. That’s not to say we didn’t talk about elections. It was inevitable that it would come up since my dad likes to watch the evening network news. A former political science major, he enjoyed talking about the strategy of the folks on the stump, and dished the dirt on them. He’d watch as many of the recent debates as he can, even when no one else wanted to watch with him. My dad is more interested in politics than my mom, who could care less because she felt stressed out by the news. Yet I think she’d still care since she’s an elementary school teacher: the politicos inf luence education funding on all levels, don’t they? Not to mention both my parents always pay attention to what presidential candidates say on immigration.

I’ll delve into some fantasy here. What would my parents be like as voters? There are some obvious signs. For one thing, it’s my dad who was enthusiastic enough to get Obama-Biden stickers for everyone in the family in ’08, for the sake of symbolic support. Though both my parents might vote Democrat, it’s not likely they’d take part in campaigns. They’re less civically inclined, but this is a projection I make after living around people at Carleton who compel me to take action. As with many zeroth-generation Americans, they’re more focused on the affairs of home and work than with broader community, but I suspect they’ll want to be involved on their own terms later in life. And my parents surely won’t align with all progressive agendas: mom’s among those more conservative Catholics who are skeptical of contraception; dad used to say something along the lines of bombing so-and-so, like Iran, to get it over with. I’ve disagreed with them on a lot of things.

But if I’ve learned anything from my parents on how I may vote one day, it’s from their take of reality, one that hasn’t always looked pretty. Once in my middle school years, my mom and I talked about the “American Dream” in the car. She said that it hasn’t always been true that hard work gets rewarded in life, even as I protested with what little awareness I had of reality outside of the car and on the street. She’s right though. I’m talking about someone who, with my dad, took risks leaving her kids for a year to start a new life here, adjusting to a new culture far from family, and saving all she could to one day reunite us. There were no guarantees for all that they did. I can’t help thinking of them, knowing the realities they faced to secure the privilege of living here. When we all get naturalized, I’m looking forward to voting for those who’ll truly watch out for everyone, including folks like my parents. And I sure hope my parents will be voting for them too.

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