I know that my parents were immigrants from South America. My father came to get his undergraduate degree, graduated, went back to South America long enough to marry my mother, and came back to get his Master's and PhD. My mother, who at the time had limited knowledge of English (though her French was good!) and had little family in the US, learned to drive, improved her English and worked hard to raise five children as they moved from Texas, Michigan, New York and Maine before settling in Ohio when I was five.
Even though they were not raised here, my parents knew more about American governance then than most Americans know of South American politics now, in the global age of the internet. They also knew what injustice looked like and when they spotted it, they tried to change it. I remember growing up in small town Ohio and hearing them talk about the Vietnamese refugees and finding ways to help them. They talked about President Carter and what he was doing in the early 80s. I remember my father building houses for Habitat--long before it was cool--and joining their board. And I remember them campaigning every electoral season. My parents would put up signs on our lawn, distribute them to others, they'd attend local rallies, and work behind the scenes for months on behalf of Ohio governors and senators in-the-making. My twin sister and I would make TV dinners and eat alone on the nights that they were gone. If they were campaigning on a weekend night, we would stay up late choreographing elaborate dance routines to show them upon arrival.
My parents would write letters to the local newspapers--my mother usually editing my father's writing--that would often get printed. My parents were never involved to get attention nor were they looking for the glamour that party supporters look for now. No, they wanted to make a change. They wanted justice. They wanted the person who was going to make things right to be put in charge. I don't remember them telling me to fight for my beliefs, to right wrongs, to stand up for others; I remember seeing them do it. Not just every four years, but every year, every day.
My mother became an American citizen when I was in sixth grade. She had retained her Bolivian citizenship for years, but she decided it was time to give it up because she wanted to be able to cast her own vote. I was a newly-minted 18-year-old when I voted for the presidential election for the first time. Since I was away in college, I called my parents to tell them I had voted, excited I had finally joined the electoral process.
Though I am not as passionate about campaigning, I am passionate about being informed and fighting for what I think is right. If I don't, my children may not enjoy the rights and freedoms I think they deserve. I hope that I can be the example to them that my parents were to me.
My mother--still an ardent political activist--already voted this morning. My son got to see me vote today for the first time. I can't wait until he can debate politics and I especially can't wait until he calls me to tell he's voted for the first time.