Some 25 years ago, two people met at the University of Florida in the United States. Juan hailed from Nicaragua and had a temporary visa and Maria was from Puerto Rico — officially a U.S. territory — and therefore, a U.S. citizen. They had their love story, finished their studies, got married and proceeded to have three children, one in Mexico and two in Nicaragua.
After consulting a lawyer, Maria registered her children at the embassy as U.S. citizens born abroad
, which was well within her rights as a U.S. citizen. Each child was issued a birth certificate, a social security number and a shiny new passport. And thus, a new breed of essentially disenfranchised kids were born.
All three of us grew up and came of age in Nicaragua. Our sense of civic duty was not particularly tied to voting. Instead, it was defined by private action for public good as we donated time and effort to causes that furthered the improvement of our country and society. This idea was reinforced by our formal education and by our parents, as well as the political climate of the country. The idea of social responsibility was reinforced through graduation requirements, while political participation was downplayed by erasing Nicaraguan political history from the curriculum.
We could always technically vote in Nicaragua, it was just never appealing. There was no faith in the electoral process and no instruction on the importance of exercising this right. In fact, during the 2017 elections, in a campaign
called “Clean Finger, Clean Conscience” — referring to the fact that your thumb is marked with ink once you vote — there was a mass calling to not vote in order to reflect distrust in the process. Different opposition and independent observers recorded a roughly 70% abstention rate from the population, yet President Daniel Ortega retained his position in office, marking a dark turn in Nicaraguan politics.
Growing up in Nicaragua grounded my identity as a citizen of this country, despite having no faith in the government. As I have left home and explored more of the world, I have had to examine what other factors affect who I am. I went to a U.S. accredited school and while we were not taught Nicaraguan politics, we were always taught to look to the U.S. as a successful example of democracy.
Yet, even in this idealized beacon of democracy, the law states
that a U.S. citizen born abroad cannot vote unless allowed by the state laws in the last place of residence of a parent. Since my mother was born and last resided in Puerto Rico — a commonwealth of the U.S. where citizens who cannot vote
in the presidential general elections — the law dictates that I am unable to vote.
And even in Puerto Rico, my vote is once again denied. My voter registration was not completed in time for the Governor elections because, according to the electoral code
, I needed paperwork that proves that I intend to remain here. Although I met some of the requirements, the papers did not come in on time for me to meet the deadline of Sept. 15.
In contrast to Nicargua, my perception of identity in the U.S. is intertwined with the idea of legal personhood and voting rights. Since I did not grow up in the continental U.S., there was no opportunity to conceptualize national identity as anything other than the rights granted to me as a citizen. I have no understanding of how people interact as a society within the U.S. except for the simple idea that to vote is both a privilege and a duty to country and self.
It was determined by law that since there is no physical tie between the U.S. and me, there shall be no democratic one either. The idea is that since I am not physically present in the U.S., I cannot be affected by the laws created there. Yet, I am still legally required to file taxes
and the laws that affect my family are created by elected officials whom I do not get to vote for.
The laws enacted also affect me in an ideological sense: if elected officials behave and create policies that are against my values, I am powerless to bring about any change.
I used to believe in this utopian idea surrounding the power of voting. I believed that once I cast a vote, I would feel like I had created some level of change. I now know that this idea is not true in practice and I will most likely not vote in any election in the near future. And so, for those who have the opportunity to take part in democratic processes, I urge you to do so and to vote for the change you want to see. You, as a voter, can change what I cannot.
General election day is November 3rd in the United States. You can learn more and register to vote at vote.org
. Here you can find a list of upcoming elections in the Council of Europe
and in Africa
Mari Velasquez-soler is News Editor. Email her at email@example.com.