I Voted! (Finally)

How I finally voted for a US President.

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Ms. Castaneda got decked out to vote!

Ms. Eunice Castaneda, WPMS Teacher Librarian

On Tuesday, November 3, 2020, I woke up way earlier than usual -6:30am- excited and nervous. It was a special day that was around 30 years in the making.

As I stood in line at 7am at my local library, the same one where I spent my childhood reading, hanging out and exploring the stacks, I tried not to cry from all the emotions I was feeling. I couldn’t believe that I was finally going to VOTE, for the first time, for a US President, since I finally became in citizen on September 23, 2017.

Yes, I was what we now considered a Dreamer. I was brought to the US when I was 3 years old…. ”illegally”.  And I never knew I was “illegal” until I was in high school. BUT, I had suspected we might be because of my fourth grade classmates….

Flashback to first day of fourth grade in the 1982. It was my first day at a new school. I had gone to a small private Catholic school and now I was going to attend a big public school. As I entered the class, I was shocked to hear some of the students speak SPANISH! We were not allowed to speak Spanish at the other school, so I became nervous and I waited for the teacher to tell the kids not to speak Spanish. He never did!  I giggled at one of the jokes they told each other in Spanish. They looked suspiciously at me and asked me, in Spanish, if I understood what they said. I told them I did. They asked me if I was Mexican and I said, “Yes!” They then told me, “So, you must be “illegal” if you are Mexican.” I stuttered, ”NO! I AM NOT!” They looked at me as if I was lying and told me to ask my parents because, “If you are Mexican then you had to be “illegal”!”

I went home nervous and scared that day. I knew what it meant to be “ illegal” because I watched the news in both Spanish and English. It meant that my family should NOT be living in the US and we could be sent back to Mexico, where most of my relatives lived. It also meant we were not welcomed or wanted here.

My Mom of course assured us (because, of course, I had to break the news to my two younger sisters) that we were not “illegal” and that we were not in danger of being deported, but I felt she was lying to us.

I became anxious every time my Dad worked late thinking he might have been deported. I listened carefully as my classmates told stores of their family members being deported, the tips they gave if  “La Migra” had a raid while you were in Downtown LA or any other place, how tired they were of having to drive to Tijuana to pick up their deported relatives on the weekends, how one of their moms threatened to leave the aunt in TJ if she didn’t lose weight and was able to fit through the bathroom window of the sweatshop they worked at when “LA Migra” raided, and how you shouldn’t speak Spanish when you were in certain places.

So, that was 4th grade. In 5th grade no one spoke about being “illegal” or spoke Spanish in class. 6th-8th grade, I went back to the private school where we were not allowed to speak Spanish. My anxiety about being illegal went away… for the most part. Until……

Flashback to 1987… I’m was a freshman, 9th grade, in high school, and my Mom sat us down and broke the shocking news to us – except for my younger sister, we had been living “illegally” in the US. I had suspected this all these years and it was finally confirmed!! All my anxiety about being deported came back to me and I threw the biggest fit ever. (Yes, I did apologize to my mom years later, after I was explained why I was so upset.) The good news was that thanks to The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, signed by then President Ronald Regan, we had the opportunity to apply to become citizens of the US and not have to live in fear.

We applied and became official residents in 1989-1990. From 1990-2016, life (including studying in Spain during college ) kept happening and I didn’t apply to become a citizen until December 2016, after the elections and the fear that I might be deported, even if I was a resident, returned. It took almost 10 months, but on September 20, 2017, I became a citizen of the United States!

AND so on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, I voted for the first time for a US President. While I was voting, I thought about 4th grade me, being anxious of being “illegal” and maybe being deported, and  9th grade me being upset about that we were “illegal” and maybe being deported. I also thought about all the Dreamers, some that might have had similar experiences to mine and that, Ojalå, one day will also be able to have the experience of voting for a US president for the first time!