"What do you mean you don't vote? How can you not vote?"
My uncle was driving me into Washington DC for the day, and I suddenly realized that I have not been here since I was a child. I quickly flashed through my memory of our family photo albums and I recalled that photo of me and my cousins and aunties standing on the steps of the National Zoo after seeing the pandas. My brother was in a stroller, so I must have been nine, at most ten. “I don’t think I’ve been here since that last family reunion in 19-when-was-it?” Could it be? My uncle and I flipped through our collective memories of family reunions past. We recalled another family reunion for my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, but that was in suburban Maryland, so we never went into the city.
But Washington always seems so present; like the cousin you never see but whose mom constantly keeps you up-to-date.
So. One day in Washington.
I was impressed when I walked past the massive Department of Education on my way to Starbucks to get a cup of tea. It was cool to see a photograph of an Asian American, Detroiter Rajiv Shah of USAID, in the lobby of the State Department. I snuck away at lunchtime to walk around the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian for an hour. My new friends laughed when I stopped in the middle of an intersection to take a photo of the Capitol, “It’s the Capitol!”
Sometimes friends tease me for being so naïve and idealistic. But with the elections upon us, I am there once again. I cannot help it. As the child of immigrants, I was raised valuing freedom and democracy, knowing how lucky we all are to be here, knowing how fragile that luck can be.
I am always shocked when I meet people who do not vote.
One of the biggest disillusionments of one longtime friendship that now is no more—even more than learning of his first affair, his second affair, his shady business dealings—was discovering that my friend did not vote. “What do you mean you don’t vote? How can you not vote?” I finally understood why he had ignored my previous attempts to be helpful by telling him where his polling place was, reminding him of voter registration deadlines, giving him the link to register to vote online. It turned out that he was not too busy. He did not forget. He just did not care.
I had never met anyone who chose to not vote.
Unable to accept this, I registered him to vote. I requested an absentee ballot for him. I sat him down one day and forced him to fill out his ballot. I did not care how he was going to vote, I just wanted him to vote. He cast one vote for president, then left the rest of the ballot blank. Close enough. I put on the stamp and mailed it in.
I am even more perplexed by those who want to block certain voters because they are afraid those voters might vote for the other side. I thought the whole point of this exercise was to determine what the people want. I would never ask anyone for whom they are going to vote. That is private, why we have secret ballots. I understand encouraging those one thinks are more likely to vote for one’s side, but to block everyone else? To only register certain voters? To threaten to fire employees for not voting a particular way? That is not right.
This election, voting is more critical than ever. The voices of the young, people of color, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in particular are greatly underrepresented. Thanks to all those who are working hard to get out the vote by registering voters, monitoring polling places, translating ballots, providing information in all languages, educating people about the importance of voting, including APIAVote, APIAVote Michigan, 18 Million Rising, My Vote Our Future, Chicago’s Asian American Institute.
Vote and make your loved ones vote!
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is a contributor for New America Media Ethnoblog, Chicagoistheworld.org, PacificCitizen.org, and InCultureParent.com. She team-teaches Asian Pacific American History and the Law at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site at franceskaihwawang.com, her blogs at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com and rememberingvincentchin.com, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.