Though I’ve always considered myself to be very opinionated, I was never a fan of activism. In fact, growing up I thought activism was inconvenient. I championed a lot of causes through my teens—I boycotted genres of music because I didn’t like the way they depicted women, I stopped eating meat because I believed in humane treatment for animals—but I kept these to myself.
That said, as a young adult I’ve become invigorated by a fervor and a need to stand up for myself and what I believe in. Maybe it’s that I’m older and wiser, maybe is that I’ve been given the opportunity to better educate myself, or maybe it’s just the fanaticism of living in the capital of a battleground state—regardless, I’ve been up in arms and very vocal.
At the start of the 2016 election process, I was rather ambivalent about the whole thing. As a permanent resident of the United States and not a citizen, I wouldn’t be able to vote in the election, and so I thought, “what’s the point?” But despite, I tried my best to get informed, I read articles, I talked to friends, I watched the news, and I opened myself up to a healthy dialogue on the proceedings of this country. At the time I was undergoing a long and oftentimes frustrating battle with immigration for my naturalization, trying my best to become a citizen before voter registration closed. As the months passed, however, it began to appear very evident that it just wasn’t going to happen. I was frustrated, downtrodden, and truly dejected. I was hurt that I was educated, that I was engaged, and that my voice would not be heard.
What hurt me the most is that Latinxs and immigrants were such a hotly debated subject of the election, and I, a Latina immigrant, wouldn’t be able to vote.
It was in the summer of 2016, when the Florida heat was coming to a peak and I was growing more and more dejected in my battle with immigration that it struck me—I might not have a voice in the form of a vote, but I definitely have a voice in the form of influence. I started volunteering for the Democratic Party of Florida. I was out there canvasing and registering people to vote, making sure that they knew how important their vote was—especially in the highly contested state of Florida. The voter registration deadline came and went, then came election night.
I sat down on election night with an election bingo map that I had made myself, I had predicted the states that would go red and which would go blue. I sat down to do homework with the CNN app handy to track the election. After an hour of finding myself getting absolutely no work done, I grabbed a glass of wine and sat in front of the TV, refreshing the CNN app, texting all of my friends, watching county after county go red, then state after state.
My mom isn’t really interested in politics. As immigrants, when we first arrived in Florida in late 1999 her priority was survival. Before she went to bed that night, she texted me, “Déjame saber quién ganó por la mañana,”—let me know who wins in the morning.
I woke up the morning of November ninth with my heart in the pit of my stomach. I barely slept that night, I was lethargic, I didn’t want to go to school, and on the drive to campus I found myself crying. My first thought that morning was how do I tell her? How do I tell my strong Latina mother that the country that she left her culture, her friends, her family, and everything she’d ever known for doesn’t care about her?
By that evening, my disbelief and misery turned into outrage. This country wasn’t going to get to toss me, or any other marginalized individual to the side. I didn’t get to vote, but my voice was going to be heard. That night I taped four sheets of construction paper together, scrawled “F*** Tr***” across it in permanent marker and marched on the capitol.
Exactly one month later, I got my citizenship. I signed petitions, I wrote to senators, I exhausted all of my resources in trying to prevent the inevitable. Then the delegates voted, and then came January 20th. I actively boycotted the inauguration and once more began to feel that sense of hopelessness.
While I was at work, I received a message from one of my friends, “hey—are you going to the march tomorrow?”
I dropped all of my plans and rushed to her house, we made Nasty Woman T-shirts and colorful protest signs. We drove through awful traffic the next morning and met in Rail Road Square. To our amazement, the relatively small city of Tallahassee, Florida had shown out by the thousands to support the Women’s March. We walked through the rain to the campus of Florida A & M University in droves. We didn’t all fit in the rec center where we regrouped—people had to be turned away at the door because we were at capacity. I was soaking wet and shaking, but in looking around me I was reinvigorated. People of all colors, cultures, ages, religions, and gender where there, all speaking with messages of love, solidarity, and support.
And it was in that moment when the true value of protest hit me. To put it plainly, the government and those in power right now might suck. Like, really suck. But, despite we’re still privileged to live in a democracy. As I sloshed through wind and rain wearing my Nasty Woman shirt proudly, I chanted “show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like!”
That’s the beauty of the protest. The unfortunate truth is that while those in power might not care about people of color, immigrants, the disabled, women, refugees, members of the LGBTQ+ community, they are not America. We are America, our voices, our passions, and our differences are America. It was immigrants, religious dissidents, refugees, and people of diverse backgrounds seeking asylum that built the idea of America that we celebrate today. And that gave me comfort. My presence, or anyone’s presence at that protest might have made zero difference in the grand scheme of things. But that’s okay, because I never have to tell my mom that this country doesn’t care about her—I can see that it does in the faces of everyone who marches with me.