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“Don’t forget to vote” is a text I get every election day since I was old enough to exercise my right. The sender is my father—my Muslim father, raised in Hyderabad, India, who’s been a citizen of the United States of America for over twenty years.
It’s a text my mom gets too. My dad conveys all the details: exact location, where to park, what time is best to avoid the rush, the whole nine. And still, we’d end up going together at night when my parents get home from work and me from school. We’re some of the last voters of the day.
The two-minute car ride to the polls consists of reviewing the candidates, ensuring we’ll vote for the best person, and there really isn’t much time for anything else with such a quick drive. We’d park and walk a few feet to the volunteer fire station and soak in the view. A view that consisted of a booth, some binders on folding tables, and volunteers. That was it really, nothing fancy. I’d flip through the book of surnames that started with H until I’d recognize my uncles and aunts, my parents, my cousins and siblings who moved out of state and no longer voted in New Jersey. Then I’d see my name, point to it, and make my way to the booth.
While all you do is push a button, there’s this sort of rush. That rush of exercising your right as a citizen of the United States, as an American, the thing you read about aloud from your social studies textbook in grade school. Even though to some onlookers, you may not seem American at all in your hijab, or your beard, or your dark skin, or your language, or whatever identifying factor that’s been placed in that category of “other” (read, unfortunately: unAmerican).
Sometimes I wonder what strangers think when they see me walking on the street. Can she speak English? Does she know anything about America? I wonder what she’s here for. That’s one of them…
Then I try to snap out of it, reminding myself that thank God, I can’t recall a time I was openly discriminated against or ever a recipient of an ignorant, ill-intentioned comment. But at the same time, I know many of my brothers and sisters in Islam were and are recipients of such treatment. From rude glares, to hurtful words, to even fatal blows.
Knowing that my brothers and sisters in faith are targets of such harassment, as well as my brothers and sisters in minority groups different from my own, I feel an even greater responsibility to do all that is in my power to limit the potential harm and feelings of being in danger.
What’s in my power at this moment is my right to vote, to push the button next to a candidate’s name who doesn’t perpetuate hate and violence that puts so many American lives at risk. And you know what? It’s in your power too.
In case your dad doesn’t text you on November 8th, consider this your early reminder. Go exercise your right, your power as an American, and make that vote count.