All Roads Lead to Voting

Photo of my mother (bottom left), her sister (bottom right), and my grandparents in Manila, Philippines. My mom moved to the United States at the age of 22.

Photo of my mother (bottom left), her sister (bottom right), and my grandparents in Manila, Philippines. My mom moved to the United States at the age of 22.

I am the daughter of two Filipino immigrants who came to the United States to work and earn a better living. As a first-generation Asian-American, my self-concept often made me feel like an outsider. I tried to find value in my experiences of identity and often searched for meaningful ways to bridge my American experiences with my Asian identity.

My first exposure began in the fall of 2000. I was a first grader at Concord Road Elementary School in Ardsley, New York. My teacher gave us paper and told us to “vote” for our favorite candidate: Al Gore or George W. Bush. I voted for George W. Bush because he was older and I felt bad (he’s only two years older than Gore). My friend voted for Bush because he had a cute dog. Even as a kid voting with my feelings, I knew that what we were doing represented much more than a folded piece of paper.

My first experience with social justice happened as a freshman in high school when I became involved in Amnesty International. I started learning about the human rights violations occurring all over the world; it stirred me. I became so invested in learning about these social issues, writing letters, gathering signatures for petitions, and protesting at the United Nations in New York City that I was compelled to make a change beyond the borders of my one-square-mile village.

College is where I strengthened my activism, and connected it to a political context. In the fall of 2014, as a junior at SUNY Geneseo in Geneseo, New York, I was in a workshop for “What is Civic and Community Engagement?” We were told to rank activities like building a house for Habitat for Humanity, planning a fundraiser, and others as being more or less representative of civic and community engagement. I ranked voting as one of the lowest in this “Human Histogram Exercise.”

A Black Lives Matter rally at SUNY Geneseo in December 2014. Photo Credit: Samuel Aviles

A Black Lives Matter rally at SUNY Geneseo in December 2014. Photo Credit: Samuel Aviles

It took me a long time, but I started to recognize the connection between social justice and civic engagement - the role of voting in justice and the role of justice in voting. No longer were they two separate arenas, but an overlapping and mutually-beneficial relationship worth thinking and caring about. In retrospect, college is where I refined my activism; where I immersed myself in social justice learning and activism. Eventually, it’s also where I connected it to voting.

Leading chants at a Black Lives Matter rally at SUNY Geneseo in December 2014. Photo Credit: Jason Phillips.

Leading chants at a Black Lives Matter rally at SUNY Geneseo in December 2014. Photo Credit: Jason Phillips.

My experiences in the 14 years between first grade and as a junior in college do not tell my whole story. Now, I am seeing that many of my passions and interests- my activism, my civic engagement, my videography, my design- collide and connect with my identity. I am AAMUnite.