To know me is to know my grandmother. I am who I am because so much of me comes from her. Like my lola, I never miss a vote. Every election, through wind and rain, but mostly gout, my grandmother Emiliana walked to the polls to perform her civic duty. She, an immigrant turned US citizen, taught me the appreciation, patriotism and responsibility of being an American; because unlike me, she knew what it was like not to be one.
Witnessing her Naturalization Oath is a family memory my mother and I alone share. At the time, I would have much rather been watching Disney Afternoon. I now brag about this moment to my siblings, much like they used to do with that darn Principal’s Honor Roll. Where was my bumper sticker? But I digress.
That day, I sat in the courthouse, impatiently tugging at the peter-pan collar of my school uniform, wanting nothing more than to go home and be freed of my plaid-green prison. I didn’t really know where I was. The dull neon bulbs painted the room in a drab yellow wash as my grandmother turned the corner wearing her best blue blazer and good pair of glasses. In her hand was a small American flag. I looked up at her, my eyes drowning in bangs as they always were—as they usually are—and she said to me, “This is the proudest day of my life.”
Still unsure of my surroundings, we were shuffled forward to another dreary grey room. It was, I realize now, what passed for a courtroom in my American small town: linoleum, a flagpole and the distinct stale must of a government building. She took her place with the other candidates and raised her right hand with an immense pride that was foreign to me then. I watched, unknowingly building this memory, sitting on my hands to stay quiet and behaved, buzzing neon light fixtures above us.
Years later, I walked back into the home where I grew up, that same average American street in a what-could-be-anywhere American neighborhood. It was 2008, and I was a cocky twenty-something visiting a hometown that few left, with a notion that I already knew more than anyone. That is, with the exception of my lola.
There she stood, leaning over the kitchen counter like she always did. From her perch, she was perfectly poised to view both the family she was raising as well as the kitchen window she loved to gaze out of. The stovetop, where something was always simmering, was just behind her. This common American street that we took for granted was the complete opposite of the island jungles that she knew from her own childhood. Just like that stale government building from years before, these were luxuries that she earned.
We debated the two qualified Democratic primary candidates and I asked her, “Who are you going to vote for?”
“Hillary,” she said simply, “Because the Clintons have done so much for me.”
I was instantly brought back to that moment her life changed. The moment she raised her hand and swore to uphold the values and freedoms of this democracy. That’s what she believed about her duty to vote.
My grandmother passed in 2010. Though her candidate’s time had not yet come, the candidate I supported became president. But the choice in that primary would have been a win either way. Today’s choice is much more extreme. The stakes are that much higher.
Her candidate followed that election with eight more years of continued political service; four as secretary of State, during which she helped engineer a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. She was an advocate for minority rights, including the LGBT community, women and low-income wage workers of all background. Not to mention, she had strong SNL representation (big-ups Amy Poehler and Kate McKinnon).
The point of this story is not to convince you who to vote for, but to vote. As you can see, I’m not shy about who I support. As I prepare to take my voting booth selfie on a hot November day in Los Angeles, I will cast my vote for the fight against climate change—and, a fair tax system implemented by exit taxes against big businesses exporting services. And because I followed my own dreams and now work in music, you can bet that I’m voting for a Grammy winner.
But more importantly, I take with me the responsibility of casting my vote for two. Because it is easy to forget that our unalienable right to choose is not a privilege available to many parts of the world. It is dangerous to forgo that freedom. So today, I make the choice that she didn’t have the opportunity to see through. I proudly punch that ballot on behalf of both myself and my lola.
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