Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Grandmother Wasn't Born With The Right To Vote

My late grandmother was born here, in the United States, in 1918.  And although our people were here first, she was not considered a United States citizen because she was born O'odham.  She was born without the right to vote.  

I'm talking about my grandmother, as in my mother's mother.  Not my great-great-great grandma, or ten generations before that, just my grandma, who I knew and loved and respected.

In 1924 (when she was six) legislation passed which granted Natives citizenship and technically would have given her the right to vote, though it did not guarantee that she would have been able to REGISTER to vote.

My grandmother would have been 21 in 1939, the legal voting age.

In 1948, when my Hu'uli-bat was 30, the same age I am now, legislation was passed granting Natives the right to register to vote, but ONLY if they could read and write in English... which my Hu'uli-bat could not.  My Hu'uli-bat was an extremely intelligent woman.  She was well respected in our community.  She was creative and stubborn and very, very funny.  She was a sharp, opinionated O’odham speaking woman.

It wasn't until 1976, when she was 58 years old that she could vote with the help of a translator.  I remember being in her home when someone would come with her practice ballot.  They would carefully translate the propositions for her and my late great-uncle.  My grandma would ask questions.  She would give her opinion.  Sometimes she and my Mom or my Great-uncle would argue and discuss each item for days afterward.  She would carefully consider each proposition, or each candidate that she would be voting for.

As my grandmother aged, it was harder and harder for her to leave the house.  She insisted on going to the polling place in person, to vote at every election.  I remember driving her there after school.  I wasn't old enough to have a license, but in Pisin' Mo'o, you didn't need one, especially if your Grandma was in the car with you.

Taking her anywhere was a huge effort.  Getting her into the car, helping her in and out of the car, packing up her walker, opening and closing doors, slooowly walking by her side was an ordeal.  But she was always excited to vote.  She dressed up for it.  I remember watching a look of relief spread to her face once the ballot was finally in the box.  I remember her smile.

She proudly displayed her I VOTED stickers on the wall right next to her bed.  Some were yellowed with age, some bright and new.  She would carefully peel her sticker off her dress each time and stick it on the wall with a look of triumph.

Every time I get my own sticker, I think of her and the pride she took in voting.  I remember that she was not born with the right to vote.  

If my grandmother were alive today, she would have been 93, going on 94 years old.  She would have only had the freedom to vote for almost 36 of those years.

I vote in her honor and in the honor of those who fought for our right to vote.

The Native Vote counts.

 *I wrote this piece about a month before the 2012 Presidential Elections.  Voting Day fell on my husband's 30th birthday that year.  We had planned to vote, then go out to a spendy dinner.  Instead, the two of us waited over 2 hours at our new polling place, separately, because there had been a computer glitch in the Pima County Recorder's Office, and though we had registered to vote within the appropriate deadline, after we had just moved, our names were not on the list.  We waited as a poll worker sat on the phone to verify that we were registered voters, before they would even hand us a ballot.  They had been sitting on the phone, verifying hundreds of voters all day.   

 The entire time I sat there, in silence, unable to even look at my phone without being chastised by the poll workers, I thought to myself, "I will sit here and wait as long as I have to."  Others gave up and went home.  Discouraged and defeated.  But I sat, watching, as all the blonde hair, blue-eyed faces quickly made their way through the lines and wondered if my two hour wait was just another tactic.  

I sat quietly and watched as the blonde haired women on the phone checked to see if I was still there.  I gave my name three times. I turned my body into stone.  I sent telepathic messages and shot darts out of my eyes.  I waited. 

Then I voted.

This blog was written during the 2012 Presidential Elections.  I am submitting this to the On The Warpath Women 31-day Women's Writing Challenge

Day Seven Prompt:  Write about something you believe in and will stand up and fight for. 

*Added to original post after the elections. 

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