SOARES: $680 for a vote

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In Texas we don’t vote for Democrats (not often, that is — we elected Jimmy Carter in 1976, and I guess we’ve been repenting since). So on Tuesday night, when Fox and MSNBC and CNN called the election for Obama, a good number of my high school friends turned to Jesus. One guy, a political science Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M, posted a Facebook status that read, “At the end of the day, the Lord Almighty is still in charge.”

I didn’t vote for Obama. But I didn’t vote for Romney, either, which is to say, I didn’t vote at all.

The last time I voted was for myself, two years ago, in the Sophomore Class Council election. I’m pretty sure I didn’t vote for YCC that year (sorry, Brandon), and I definitely abstained the year after that (who is John Gonzalez?). I may have taken the survey for Spring Fling performers last fall, but I don’t think that counts as an election.

At 22, I’ve never voted. I mean, I have — for myself, and for Ke$ha as a Spring Fling headliner (a man can dream) — but I’ve never voted for real, in an election with results that appeared on CNN.

Documentary filmmaker LaToya Ruby Frazier spoke on Wednesday about using her photography as a vehicle for autobiography.
Documentary filmmaker LaToya Ruby Frazier spoke on Wednesday about using her photography as a vehicle for autobiography.

It’s been a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, repeatedly, starting with the fact I was born in Brazil. Brazilians gain the right to vote at 16, but by then I was in Texas, and by 18, when the 26th Amendment deems people old enough to vote, I couldn’t register because I’m not American. I applied for my U.S. citizenship about a year ago, and the process usually takes five months, so I thought I would vote (for the first time!) in 2012. And I might have, had I not derailed my citizenship application by skipping my civics test.

I ended up taking the test last month, telling the proctor (this is an oral test) that the Declaration of Independence declared independence from Britain, which was apparently the correct answer to, “What did the Declaration of Independence do?” This test being the last step in the process, I am now, bureaucratically speaking, an American. I say “bureaucratically” because it’s not official yet. My American citizenship will be made real at a naturalization ceremony, which will involve patriotic music, a pledge and a 6-foot-tall duplicate of the Statue of Liberty for photo ops. I was assured that my invitation to this ceremony will come in the mail soon, so that, any day now, I’ll become an American.

I mention all of this because, by the time I pose with the Statue of Liberty, I will inherit a president I didn’t elect. I like Barack Obama, but on Tuesday night, when he thanked “every American who participated in this election” and spoke of the “belief that our destiny is shared,” he wasn’t speaking to me. When he said that “we are an American family,” he was speaking, mostly, to the approximately 270 million people who were born on a chunk of land labeled on maps as America.

But set those folks aside, and there are a handful of us whose citizenship is elective, who made a conscious choice to buy into this country. And I mean buy literally — the fee to file a citizenship application is $680. When I set out to write this column early on Tuesday night, the networks had just called Kentucky and given Mitt Romney the early lead, and I thought about joking that I wanted my money back. But that wouldn’t be true. Because when I applied for citizenship, I wasn’t buying into a president. I was buying into the larger, loftier ideals of this country.

I think my disgruntled Texan friends, with their Facebook statuses about Jesus, were on to something. Appealing to divine providence may be a stretch, but there’s truth in saying that, in the end, it doesn’t matter who’s sleeping in the White House. This is a sentiment grounded in faith — faith that America is a pretty neat country. That every four years both parties have at each other with a kind of viciousness seen only in MMA fights and during the 20 minutes of Toad’s penny drinks — and that their disagreements are good. That though America swerves left and right like an 18-wheeler driven by a toddler, in the end, it will always move forward. That despite the deficit and joblessness and wars and the bickering over those things, this is a country some of us would still pay $680 for.

Teo Soares is a senior in Silliman College. Contact him at teo.soares@yale.edu .

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