On Election Season, Not Being a Citizen and Not Having a Vote

I am an immigrant. More importantly, I am a non-citizen immigrant. This means that come November, I have no choice -- no vote -- in who becomes the next President of the United States (or who represents me in Congress). I won't lie to you; I don't believe the voting system is in any way fair, just, or effective. I have a complicated relationship with the idea of voting. But that's all it can be for me -- an idea.

During an election season where not one but many candidates have viciously attacked migrants, mine is an extremely vulnerable space to occupy. As a non-citizen migrant, I am continually subject to state power without any form of protection from the state. One wrong move and I'm out of here. There is so much demanded of us (our labor, our compliance, our assimilation) yet nothing is promised or guaranteed. We are, as Mae M. Ngai terms us, "impossible subjects."

While our friends, coworkers, and family members debate the pros and cons of each candidate, we sit in silence, fearing the worst, hoping for the best (the best being the status quo). We tremble, wondering what each outcome would mean for our safety, for our presence in this country. As our peers discuss where they'll move if certain candidates get elected, we remember how we already left our homes behind, how we surrendered our worlds to be here, how we uprooted our families to build our futures in this country. Yet, come election season, we have no seat at the table.

So, we pray and hope la Virgencita intervenes on our behalf. We sit and we wait. Don't get me wrong, though. We are in no way passive. We have in no way surrendered.

We may not hold the same rights and privileges as citizens. We may not be able to cast a vote on Election Day. However, this does not keep us from practicing cultural citizenship, which Blanca Silvestri defines as the way "people organize their values, their beliefs about their rights, and their practices based on their sense of cultural belonging rather than on their formal status as citizens of a nation." When non-citizen migrants are kept out of voting booths, we find alternative means of performing modes of citizenship. We join churches and host rights education workshops; we celebrate communions and quinceañeras together. We form bilingual book clubs to support our children's educations. We boycott and strike. We write. We demand just treatment. When state legislatures deem our consular identification cards invalid, we make our own. We vote every day when we carve out spaces of belonging and fight for recognition in this country.

This is not me endorsing any candidate, or me asking those of you who can to exercise your ability to vote. This is me reflecting on my precarious condition as a woman, an immigrant, and a Latina. A person whose multiple, intersecting identities are under attack this election season and who cannot vote. Or, at least, that's what I thought this blog would be about when I set out to write it. Now I realize this is about much more than that. It is about a person who is locked out of the voting booth, along with millions of others, but who is finding ways to thrive and flourish in the land she has chosen to call her own. It is about a person and a community who will always make a way out of no way.

There is no question that our lives and our livelihoods suffer from our lack of citizenship status. We are vulnerable and we shouldn't be. But, when we are kept from casting a vote, we find new ways of performing citizenship. We redefine what it means to be citizens, to be engaged, to belong. This election season, I hope we can all take pride in that.