Mariam has lived in America for 43 years, and yesterday, was the first time she ever cast a ballot.
A better life, a good education, and the American dream is why most immigrants leave everyone they know and everything they have to cross oceans and come to this great nation.
For Mariam, it was no different. In the early seventies, she left her family, home and the security of her job as a teacher, in Syria, and took a risk with her husband and new born daughter. They landed at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, and had hotdogs for their first American dinner.
"When I asked what we were eating and was told hot dogs, I spit it out, because I knew what hot and dog meant," says Mariam. Luckily a friend who had picked them up at the airport explained that the food contained no dog meat.
Before immigrating to the U.S., she thought that coming to America and living the dream would be like "picking dollars off a tree."
"We thought succeeding in the U.S. would be easy. We were told the roads were paved with gold, like in the movies," says Mariam. However, as she and her husband discovered shortly after immigrating, surviving in America was hard work and there was no family around to help.
They both took on jobs. Anything they could do to support their growing family.
Slowly but surely they started to build their own unique American dream. With hard work and perseverance they bought a home in a good suburb with a good school district. Over the years they welcomed three more children, and experienced the ups and downs that came with being an immigrant American family: losing a job, raising children that don't share the same culture as their parents, having an accent and discrimination.
Mariam and her husband have never been interested in politics. Some immigrants who come from countries with dictatorships or oppressive regimes shy away from being politically active. They are fearful that any kind of dissent will be met with persecution, which often happens in the countries they originate from.
For Mariam it wasn't much different. She has been in the U.S. for 43 years and a citizen for almost 3 decades, but she's never voted. This year something changed.
Before both candidates secured their nomination, Mariam liked the idea of a woman being in office, so she wanted Clinton to win. But after Donald Trump was nominated, she felt a need for Clinton to win because of the rhetoric being spread by Trump about immigrants coming from her birth country and who shared her religion.
She worries about her grandchildren's future. "We came to this country because of the promise of a better life, and now it looks like things may get worse," she says.
At the age of 70, this petite grandmother told her daughter to take her to vote. She needed to vote. Unsure if she was registered, her daughter checked her mother's registration status online, and to their delight she was registered. Mariam remembers being asked something about voting at the DMV a few years ago.
As she left her home, she met the opposition of her 80 year old husband at the door, but she was determined to continue.
Walking into her township's city hall a day before the national election, Mariam seemed nervous and excited standing firmly in line with her driver's license clutched between her hands, waiting for her turn to fill out her absentee ballot with her daughter. They fill the air with chitchat about who in line looked like they'd be voting for which candidate.
"Next," the clerk's office employee proclaims. Her daughter began to speak for her mother, as she often does when it came to forms or governmental red tape, but Mariam spoke up for herself and said, "I want to vote."
Receiving her ballot, she sat down at a small table in the hallway, and filled out the straight democratic oval. Trying to understand that one single mark was sufficient for the entire ballot, she was hesitant to leave the Hillary oval empty. Her daughter explained that the democratic oval was a vote for Hillary, but Mariam still insisted on filling in the Hillary oval, "just in case."
She gathered the 4 or 5 pens lying in her voting booth and along with her ballot returned them to the clerk's office employee. They turned and walked away.
Walking with a sense of victory, Mariam beamed as if her candidate had already won. "Congratulations mama!" her daughter exclaims, "You did it! You voted." Smiling Mariam responds, "Yes, I did. I finally did it."