Elections have consequences – for voters and non-voters alike.
I learned that lesson when I was 16 years old . It was December 2010. Christmas was approaching, and I was in high spirits because I had saved enough money to get my mom a nice picture frame – the classic gift a young high schooler gives a parent. I was home alone when my mom called the house phone. When I picked up, I could sense the mix of excitement and uncertainty in her voice. She told me to hurry and turn on the TV to any news channel. I grabbed the remote and flipped through the channels until I saw a room full of people in suits, moving around like ants in the sand. My mom told me they were members of Congress about to vote on the DREAM Act – a vote that could change my future. She had to hang up the phone and get back to work but made me promise to call her back as soon as the results came in.
At the time, I did not fully understand the legislative process, but I understood the gravity of my situation. Whether it was helping my parents file their taxes or being told we could not be reunited with family back in Bolivia, being undocumented was etched into my daily life.
A couple years later, I graduated college, the first in my family to do so. Being undocumented, the first few years of college were difficult because I couldn’t access financial aid and other resources. Thankfully, I was able to begin the process to readjust my status through the U-Visa program and now, I am on the path to becoming a citizen and gaining the right to vote. When I have the opportunity to vote, I will never take that privilege for granted because there are still millions of aspiring citizens who do not have say in our democracy. Until then, I will continue to speak out for the causes and people that matter most to me.
Tomorrow’s election here in Virginia will have national implications, serving as a critical litmus test of Donald Trump’s divisive and hateful agenda. The Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie, is a replica of Trump when it comes to his rhetoric and policies. He has demonized and criminalized immigrants. He has allowed the Republican Party of Virginia to purposefully mis-gender Danica Roem, who is running to be the first openly transgender women in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Even mainstream Republicans have rejected this extremist agenda – and Virginians would be wise to follow their lead.
I wish I could become a citizen sooner, so I could cast my vote for Dr. Ralph Northam for Governor, Justin Fairfax for Lieutenant Governor and Mark Herring for Attorney General – three candidates who are fighting for a more fair, just and equitable Virginia. Three candidates who believe that Virginia’s strength lies in its diversity and that every voice matters, no matter the color of your skin or where you were born.
Voting is a privilege – and I’ve spent my life working to one day cast my ballot. If you already have that right, I beg you: please don’t waste it.
Rodrigo Velasquez is a formerly undocumented immigrant, an activist and a communications fellow for the Center for Community Change Action.