Just In Time For Christmas – The Right to Vote?

by Emil Guillermo

It’s Christmas time. Is there anyone out there pining for the right to vote?

It is a democracy, after all. Even though Santa wears red.

If you are pining away the chance to vote for another Filipino American governor, then here’s a stocking stuffer.

Despite all the Republicans’ best efforts to dismantle the Voting Rights Act, the one thing they haven’t been able to erase is Section 203, the part that gives you the right to election information in language at the polling places. And this year, because of the new Census, Maui County qualifies for election materials and help in Filipino.

This is in addition to the requirement that Honolulu County includes Chinese (plus Taiwanese) and Filipino.

It’s just a stocking stuffer though.

What if you are a permanent resident in America? A “green card” holder. It’s in quotes because if you have one, you know it’s more like bureaucratic blue. It is the “document” that means you’re here for real. You’re not illegal. You can work. You can pay taxes into the system.

But can you vote? Are you kidding me, pare?  You’d expect more from the country that was fueled by the phrase “no taxation without representation.”

That’s the irony. If you are a green card holder, you’re legal. But you can’t vote. You’re not a citizen.

That’s why what happened recently in New York is so significant.

Lady Liberty is smiling broadly on New York City. Her torch, which had seemed a bit dim if not totally burned out in recent years, was forever shining as always.

The New York City Council has given the gift of the vote for Christmas to all noncitizens there.

You heard that right.

The pro-democracy movement has finally come to America, and it’s about time.

We have seen America changing before our eyes in the other direction. Regressing. Getting smaller. Limiting opportunity. It was an America hell-bent on taking away rights from its people, from abortion rights to the fundamental right to vote.

But now things are going the people’s way. While some states like Texas and Georgia are trying to restrict voting rights, New York City is expanding rights and, allowing more of the people it governs to cast a ballot in local elections.

The measure extends the right to vote to all legal permanent residents (green card holders) and persons with a right to work in the U.S.It’s not undocumented folks. It’s not what racist people call “illegals.” It’s legal immigrants with just green cards.

You can vote in NY city elections.

Vote. Not boat. You can be heard. You can be counted when it matters. You don’t have to be a citizen.

Jealous in Hawaii? You should be if you’re a green card holder who has been sitting on the sidelines. Or hesitant about becoming a full U.S. citizen.

The New York law needs to be duplicated where you are.

Look what it does in New York. It means every Filipino American with a green card in New York City, plus the nearly 120,000 immigrants of Chinese descent there, once formerly left out, voiceless and ignored in our democracy, now have a vote.

It means all those Asian American folks in Flushing have a new weapon after public works officials there did little to prevent the storm waters in September from flooding basement apartments and killing residents.

That weapon to hold the government accountable is called the vote.

You have more power today than yesterday.

You can now throw the elected bums out of office if they failed to do their jobs.

That’s democracy.

Other places like San Francisco have allowed noncitizens to vote in school board elections. But New York City is letting you vote in all the local matters.

You still can’t vote in federal or state elections. Not yet. But you can vote on the most important issues in your daily life.

If, as the saying goes, “all politics is local,” then focus on the grassroots, the sidewalks where you stand now. You now have a voice in all that affects you right where you live.

But why stop there? This pro-democracy movement can spread all over the nation—including Hawaii– if people understand the Constitution.

Note: It doesn’t say, “We the Citizens.” The phrase is “We the People.”

The bill is DeBlasio proof. It can’t be vetoed. No doubt, Republicans who feel threatened will try to place obstacles. But the movement has begun.

The pro-democracy movement in America.

And of course, this all makes me think about my mom.

My mother, the non-citizen lamb
My mother was a non-citizen immigrant. She didn’t vote at first and didn’t see the reason for it. My father voted and that was like a “family vote.” So, my mom was shut out willingly.

She wasn’t a Tiger Mom. She was a lamb. She was a nicer Imelda, with fewer shoes.

Never the aggressor. Always deferred. She went to church and always prayed. She led with love, and let the consequences occur. It was a stance of trust.

When she came to America and found a better situation than the one she left, she was grateful and trustful in her new country that things would be done right on her behalf.

She was a naive immigrant. She filled out forms, became a permanent resident, a “green card” holder, and lived on the trust of others.

And then the trust was betrayed, and my Mom woke up.

Congress was taking away benefits for seniors. She was seeing her monthly check shrink.

One morning in the 1980s, she told me she had done something secretly. She had studied to become a citizen and was finally taking her oath.

After more than 30 years in America, I asked her, why now?

Essentially, it was “Reaganomics,” the policies under President Ronald Reagan that cut social services to the poor and elderly.

But my mother didn’t say “Reaganomics.” That would have been too cute.

My mother, never a huge news consumer, was no dummy. She would have the TV news on at times, mostly to watch me as a reporter. But when I got back to see her, the TV was always on the show “MacGyver,” the guy who comes up with resourceful ways to fix problems. My mom would sit in the corner of the room with her rosary beads and watch that show.

And it must have dawned on her that her problem of a shrinking benefits check and cutbacks in government support needed some kind of a MacGyver-like fix. But the answer was actually simpler than a TV drama.

Becoming a citizen was the answer, and for just one reason.“I have to vote now,” she said.

In video at New York City Hall, I looked at all the proud immigrants from Africa, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, all over. And I saw the spirit of my mom.

New Yorkers, including noncitizens, finally have a voice in our democracy.

And this is where it grows. They should vote everywhere. In everything.

Cutoff the detractors at the pass. It’s not “noncitizen voters.” They’re “Green Card” voters. They’re contributors to America. They are card-carrying “permanent residents.”

They should no longer be ignored. There’s still work to do. But with New York’s bold action, the largest municipality in the country has declared, the Pro-Democracy Movement has finally come to America.

And just in time for Christmas.

NOTE:
With this being the last column of the year, I want to wish all my dear friends in Hawaii a Merry Christmas! Please be safe, be happy, and stay healthy, as we continue to navigate difficult times. Until the next column, please access my web shows and podcasts and stay connected. Peace and Love to you all!

EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator. A former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” he also worked on the editorial board of the Honolulu Advertiser and was a columnist at the Star Bulletin.  See his show on www.amok.com, on his YouTube channel and Facebook Watch. And Twitter@emilamok.


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