Since 2010, after hearing the news that Arizona was about to become the "papers, please" state, I found myself walking on the streets of Mesa, Arizona, where I have lived for the past 15 years of my life, asking every Latino I could find the same questions. I would go to churches, neighborhoods, stores and would even crash one or two parties. The questions where usually either "Are you registered to vote?" or "Did you know your vote can make a difference?" What most frustrated me at that time was when the answer was either, "I'm not interested," "I don't like politics" or "What does me registering to vote have anything to do with SB-1070?"
As an undocumented American, and someone who cannot vote, it was very hard to understand why people who have the ability to vote, the simplest and most honorable political action you could take, had no motivation or intention of casting their ballot at the polls. And don't get me wrong, I also found dozens of Latinos who had never been approached and asked to vote, and as soon as I talked to them about the importance of building electoral power, they did not hesitate to register. However, for me it was still puzzling to see how the majority of my own people in my community did not care about who represented them.
In order to understand what could be going through the minds of the 405,300 unregistered potential Latino voters in Arizona, I looked into what motivated me and hundreds of other undocumented youth or DREAMers to walk in 115 degree weather through the streets of Phoenix and Mesa motivating others who do have the power to vote, to do so.
In 2009, the DREAM Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representative. The DREAM Act is a bill that would allow youth to earn a path to legal status. It was the perfect opportunity to push for a bill that would, in our minds, give us the opportunity to stay in this country and finally be accepted as what we consider ourselves to be: American. Being as honest as I can, at that time I cared very little about politics. I had no clue how local and national politics affected my life. The year that this bill was introduced, was the same year I graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor's degree in psychology. It was the same year I realized that all that hard work in college was not going to be worth as much if I didn't have the nine-digit social security number. Reality hit home.
I went from not even knowing who my senator was to nearly stalking him at every town hall meeting in 2010. Let's just say John McCain could not get rid of a very small, but very committed group of Dreamers who even ended up sleeping outside his office for almost a month, just so that we could get his vote on the DREAM Act. It was not a matter of believing in politics or not; it was a matter of recognizing that, if it was not us speaking up, no one else was going to do it for us.
This was the same story all throughout the country. Undocumented youth realized that the government in this country had failed our so-called "democracy." Although we had a majority of votes in the House, the Senate and 54% of support from the American people, it still failed by five votes because of the filibuster. But did DREAMers say, "Politics are not for me"? No!
We mobilized our communities to exercise what no voter suppression tactic, or multimillion Super PAC could stop: our VOICE and our COURAGE. DREAMers across the country demanded a president who has deported record number of immigrants to stop. It took different groups and tactics, but only one demand, to stop deporting us. In June 15th, when President Obama announced the halt of deportation for undocumented youth, we realized that we might not have the power to vote, but we definitively have the power to influence hearts, minds, and the ultimate goal -- policy. Now are trying to make our friends and siblings become conscious of their political power through our Su Voz Mi Voto campaign.
We now know that it takes collective power to fight for our rights as immigrants, as Latinos, as students, as parents and most importantly, as human beings.
So why do I, and hundreds of DREAMers, walk the streets of Arizona and all across the country? Not because I think voting will solve our problems, or because I think that a person's vote is his or her only voice. I do it because I know it's one of many tools that our citizen brothers and sisters have to contribute to change our broken democracy, and get us closer to obtaining justice for immigrant families.
Our democracy does not stop at the polls. It is the first step to electing someone we can hold accountable. It is to show that the people who make the decisions in those halls of power, not an elected candidate. I might not have a vote, but I do have a voice, and I will keep motivating my community to take the first step. This November, it is time to vote!
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