Sunday, 14 June 2015

Why I'm So Excited for My First Ever Time to Vote

Why I'm So Excited for My First Ever Time to Vote

Inside a sweaty downtown Manhattan room, I shifted nervously in my seat as I folded the corners of what would become life changing paperwork. A baby cried on one end and on another, an elderly woman flipped through a miniature book of American history. A hodge podge trio, we awaited the next step in our lengthy citizenship process.

A USCIS employee called out my last name and I scurried towards his desk to be fingerprinted. He pressed my hands against a screen, typing a series of codes that corresponded to my now crumbled paperwork. He took a picture of me and handed me a book: "Be sure to study the language and these questions, you'll need to answer everything in English."

This employee was the third of the day to question my grasp of the English language—one which I write and speak, quite literally, for a living. I smiled through pursed lips and nodded. Correcting a member of USCIS was not going to help my application.

USCIS is an acronym branded into the minds of American immigrants—United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. USCIS controls our fate entirely: whether we can stay in the country, whether we can work here and if our relatives will be ripped from us due to flawed—or all together fraudulent—paperwork.

My road to American residency was long but lucky. My family immigrated legally, receiving Green Cards in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. A Green Card allows you to live and work in America how any citizen would but it denies one distinct privilege: voting.

As my friends Rocked the Vote and Yes We Canned, I shied away from politics, not wanting to know too much about what I couldn't participate in. All the while, Bush ducked shoes, Shepard Fairey's iconic poster came and went, and Donald Trump kept trying to convince America—and probably himself—that he was a viable candidate.

Though I qualified to apply for citizenship in my teens, I was perfectly happy with my Green Card, mostly because I never felt the urge to vote. No candidate grasped me. I couldn't be convinced to rock anything. I came from a place where voting wasn't considered effective under various oppressive regimes.

Because my family immigrated with me, they too were not able to vote. I'd been raised in a ballot free household and went on to establish my own. It was not until the winter of 2014 that I got bit by the donkey and kicked by the elephant all at once.

In late February 2014, the people of my birth country, Ukraine, came together in uprising and ousted a corrupt president, Viktor Yanukovych. Among other terrible things, Yanukovych had defrauded his people, attempted to silence the press, and shown loyalty to the Russian government—Ukraine's long time foe—on numerous occasions. The Ukrainian Parliament sent him backing and declared that Ukraine would hold an election to find a new, uncorrupted president.

Ukrainians have rarely been given the opportunity to vote in a clean election and in May of last year, they were able to do so, electing Ukraine's version of Willie Wonka: Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire who made his fortune on his candy company.

After being unable to vote in two American elections, I was also unable to vote in this groundbreaking Ukrainian election. A woman without a vote, I felt frustrated with my citizenship limbo for the first time. On May 26th, one day after the election, I printed out the several dozen pages of paperwork I needed to fill out to begin my process for American citizenship.

For months, I poured over the documents, collecting every bit of information and fact checking it, terrified to make a mistake on the application that cost me over $700. In the event of error, I'd have to pay the amount again and start at the beginning. I filled it out first in pencil, then blue pen, then in black. Once in block letters and once in cursive. Early this year, I was finally pleased with both my facts and my penmanship and sent the application to USCIS.

A woman named Tammy signed for the letter containing my application, which I had overnighted, insured, and tracked to the mysterious P.O. Box such things go to in Texas. Soon, Tammy, or one of her coworkers, but I'd like to think it was Tammy, sent me paperwork for my fingerprint form. From there, an interview was set up, in which I was questioned on American history. The final step is a formal swearing in and I will then be allowed to apply for my passport. After that, I will finally, finally be able to register to vote.

In 2016, I will be able to vote in a fair election for the first time. Having watched my home country collapse under the weight of an ill-elected politician, I will not take for granted what it means to vote in a country like America. I've got two elections of shrugging to make up for. I've got local politicians to research and if the mood strikes me, I might even volunteer for a campaign.

One move across the ocean, over two decades in America and one inspirational election in my home land later, I will be able to participate in the democratic process of my adopted country and understand the true impact my vote has. It's not just one vote—its my vote.

Related:
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Why #DespiteBeingAWoman Is Trending in India
Want to Get into Politics? Here Are 5 Things You Need to Do (Courtesy of a Former Obama Intern!)
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Source : http://www.teenvogue.com/my-life/2015-06/voting-for-the-first-time-new-citizen
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