As the election nears, we've been talking at the Ella Baker Center about the privilege of being a voter in the United States. Our country has a pretty dismal voter turnout rate- ranking lower than most other wealthy, democratic nations on the planet. In order to inspire people to exercise their right to vote, we wanted to talk with some Americans who don't have the right to vote. Through EcoViva, an international non-profit doing environmental justice in Central America, I met Dionicia. I talked with her about her story and why though she cannot vote, she wants you to make sure you do!
Rhina: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Dionicia: My name is Dionicia Lara and I am from El Salvador. I came to the United States at the age of 14. Leaving my country at that age was the hardest thing to do because I was leaving everything I'd known to be my life so far. In my head I had all these worries about a new language, a new culture, etc. Having lived in the countryside my entire life, I didn't know how I was going to adapt to a new city and new country. But I was content that I was finally going to be reunited with my mom, who had to flee the country during our civil war.
The trek up here was a very hard one. We had to cross Guatemala's and Mexico's borders, sometimes walking through cemeteries and creeks in the middle of the night. Sometimes on minivans with no seats. (My sister was lucky, she was only 7 years old and she got piggy rides most of the time). I had never before experienced an icy cold weather like I did in one of the towns in Northern Mexico. At that point I just wished we could go back to El Salvador. Yet the reminder that I was finally going to be living with my mom kept me happy.
We spent almost 2 months on the road until we got to San Francisco on a very foggy February 2nd 1991. I've made this my country since then. I just wish there was more equality for everyone.
Why aren't you able to vote?
Despite having lived in the United States for almost 22 years, most of my life, I can't vote because various immigration laws have prohibited me from becoming more than a "Temporary Protected Status" recipient, much less a U.S. Citizen.
What's the power of voting?
For me, the power of voting is to have your voice heard. To have a say in the decisions that are constantly being made that affect our communities and therefore our families.
What would you tell people who can vote in this coming elections?
I would tell them to go out and vote. To have their voice heard. To stop this cycle of maintaining our mouths shut, like my mom would say it. If we don't speak up, we will never get what we want, and most importantly, what we need. Go be a part of the decision making in our future and the future of the younger generation that's right behind us. Don't let others make decisions for you.