First-Timers: A New Citizen Votes

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S1: How old were you when you moved to the United States? I was 22. I was 22 when I moved here. Why did you come here? It’s my husband’s fault. Often somebody lives in California, works as a translator. But she was born in Brazil, met her American husband when he moved to South America to surf.

S2: We hit it off and then six months later, we got married. Six months is six months. I know. And it’s like everybody was like, oh, she’s pregnant. It’s a shotgun wedding. It was not. My daughter was born six years later. Yeah, it was just love at first sight. We were in the right place, right time in our lives and we worked. And almost 19 years later, here we are now.

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S1: They’ve got two kids run their translation business together. And the thing is, until the last few years, Haffa was pretty set with her green card. She could do almost everything a citizen could do except for one or two things like vote, which is how she found herself in a long line of cars a few months back, waiting on a drive through naturalization ceremony, a covid era immigration workaround. I just learned about this kind of ceremony. Can you just, like, put me in the car with you? Like, did they call you and say, OK, listen, we have this drive thru thing. Here’s how it’s going to work. Like, how did how did you even hear about how this was going to happen? Well, I didn’t.

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S2: We were all dressed up thinking that we were going to a place where we would be socially distancing, maybe outdoors, they just gave us, you know, send a letter with the address, the time be there. OK, so we take off. And it’s funny because we were driving through the freeway and just see this big line off in the distance is like, oh, maybe it’s people doing covid tests. And then we just went around. It’s like, oh, we’re at the end of that line that we saw. Oh, it’s not the covid test. This is for the citizenship. And we still thought it was OK. So we’re going to have to just park the car somewhere. They’re trying to probably direct people. And once we got closer to the beginning of the line, we figure out, oh, OK, so that’s how they’re doing it. If you just roll down your window and you just swear.

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S3: Rupi The the the words that the person in charge of swearing you in is saying and OK, great, here’s a paperwork. You’re done.

S1: When we talked earlier this month, Haffa had already voted. Turns out newly naturalized citizens like her are one of the fastest growing groups of voters in the country since 2000. The size of the immigrant electorate has nearly doubled. Why was it important to you to become a citizen this year? Was the election part of your decision?

S2: Yes, definitely. My husband and I agree on so many things that I know that, you know, his vote represents me, too. But yeah, I just came to a point that it’s like maybe we’re going to need that extra vote per household now.

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S1: Today on the show, the next in our series of stories about first time voters and what’s driving them for how far. This may be her first time at the polls in the U.S., but she can’t help but compare her experience here with what voting looks like back home. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. Hoffa had a bunch of reasons why she felt like she needed to nail down her citizenship in the lead up to this election. The first came back in 2015 before Trump was even president. Hoffa was renewing her green card when she saw something upsetting.

S2: I saw this lady, I believe, from Mexico with her son and her grandson. And I think it was the first time she was renewing her green card with the biometrics. So she needed to get a fingerprint and picture. And she was really upset. She didn’t understand what was going on. That’s new. It’s new. It’s good. I didn’t do that 10 years ago when I got my first green card. So she was getting upset and she thought she was going to be booked and sent back to Mexico. So I saw her son, maybe his 50s, her grandson in his 20s. They were trying to explain it to her. And just having that image was something that compelled me to say, I better get on the ball with this. It’s not affecting anything in my life right now, becoming a citizen or not. But when I’m older, if my kids have to deal with me and, you know, take me to the Social Administration and have all everything done, it’s it’s not something I want to put on them. So that was a first step to become a citizen. And then twenty sixteen came the first the ban for people that would travel in and out of the country. That really sent some shockwaves, especially by Brazilian friends all over the United States. My translation friends, and they are in the same situation. So we all kind of were on high alert. Could that happen to us? You feared leaving the country? Exactly, because we had issues in the beginning before I had my my green card, I had it was a new visa that they had back in 2002 when we got married. It was a K3 visa for fiancees and wives or husbands of American citizens. And people not being informed at the airport thought that I shouldn’t have left the country. And when I was trying to come back home because my home was San Diego, now it is just too many people could interfere on my coming and going. You wanted to cut the red tape? Exactly. Exactly. If I can minimize any problems that I can have from now on and still be with my husband and kids, that’s what my main priority was growing up in Brazil.

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S1: Often our family weren’t the most politically active people, but they witnessed huge changes in how the country worked. And those experiences shaped Hoffa.

S2: One of my earliest memories as a kid, I was four years old and it’s my parents popping the champagne in Brazil because the dictatorship was over. Hmm. So even how young I am, I just turned 40. Some people say that it’s old, but it’s still pretty, pretty young chronologically. It’s just weird to think that I was four years old and a dictatorship was still actively happening in Brazil.

S1: So your parents knew your parents knew the meaning of a vote and what it was like not to have one.

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S2: Yes. And it’s it was something that I definitely remember that it was pretty impactful in their lives. They were in their mid to late thirties the first time they were able to vote for president. They had voted for mayor and, you know, local offices. But it was it was a big deal for sure. And my parents are not political at all. They don’t really talk politics. They were just, you know, going through the dictatorship as young people because it started when they were ten and twelve years old. So they went to college, they got married, they started a family. It wasn’t something that was part of their lives, but it was still a big a big moment in their lives. Voting for president for the first time for sure.

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S1: When the dictatorship fell, Brazil put in place rules that were supposed to make elections fairer, more open. First off, voting became mandatory. Fines could be levied against people who refused to vote without an official excuse. This rule doesn’t keep people from staying home, but it is a statement of intent. You can also register to vote when you’re just sixteen. That’s what half hearted.

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S2: Yeah, it’s optional if you really want to. But from eighteen on, then it’s mandatory. So before I turn 18, I got all the paperwork, got information where I would go and then my mom and I just made the plan of like, oh, let’s just go as early as possible before the school gets crowded and let’s vote and go to the beach. So we were betting like a beach dress and you could see that we were in bikinis underneath. And as I’m sitting there waiting to come in to vote into one of the classrooms, the guy that was working in that classroom said, is this your first time voting? And I said, yes, OK, so after you vote, you have to stay here. And I’m like, why is that? Yeah, I know that you have plans to go to the beach. I can see that. But it’s not happening. Honey, why am I. OK, what’s going on? And he said, well, someone that was supposed to be here because they have the poll workers for each classroom in that school and for all the schools that they have during the voting day. So they said, you know, someone is missing here. We need help. So because it’s your first time, congratulations. Became a poll worker right now. You were drafted. I was drafted when I was in line waiting to vote.

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S1: Can you imagine that happening here?

S2: Yeah, no, I don’t think that would happen. And people would obey like that. And because elections are mandatory, you have to participate in the election. Lisa’s the voter. The guy that drafted me said if you go home and want to change, that’s OK. But if you don’t come back, just remember, we have all your information and you have to pay a fine. So the police would come and knock on your door and you have to pay a fine because you refuse to work as a poll worker. So I was like, OK, I’ll just go around the corner, go to my house, change and come back. And I did. So I worked at election in 1998 and I worked the next election in 2002 right before I moved here.

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S1: Do you feel like in Brazil folks take the responsibility to vote more seriously?

S2: I’m not sure I can make that statement. Unfortunately, I would like to. But nowadays, especially with the results that we’ve had the last election in Brazil, it seems that a lot of people forget that we had a dictatorship. You’re talking about the election of gyroball in a row. Yes. Yes. So more people getting involved in the process, but it still doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a good outcome, at least not for society in general, for sure.

S4: More what next after the break.

S1: Hoffa voted for the first time in the United States earlier this month. She is a Biden supporter, but not exactly an excited Biden supporter.

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S2: He was not my first choice. Definitely one of the things that motivated me to become a citizen and vote in this election was I really wanted to vote for Elizabeth Warren. And, well, that didn’t happen. I was really glad that Harris was was chosen as VP because Kamala Harris was my second option for president. And Biden is a politician that has empathy. So definitely it was not a tough choice for me at all.

S1: It wasn’t a tough choice because Haffa disagrees with just about everything, about the way the president handles his office. She has personal concerns about immigrants like herself, but she’s also worried about climate change and health care. You’re clearly worried about the direction this country is headed in. But I’m really struck listening to you that you’re also at this funny moment where you’ve committed to an American identity at this same moment that you’re very troubled by what’s happening here. Do you think about that contradiction at all?

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S2: All the time. All the time for sure. It’s not an identity that I have as crystal clear right now. I just knew that that was a step that I had to take to participate. People who see me here, they may have this idea that, oh, she’s an immigrant and she came here for a better life because the United States is, you know, a first world country. And she came from the slums in Brazil, which was definitely not the case. You just caught in between two worlds and nobody perceives you for who you are unless they are really close friends and keep tabs on you all the time.

S1: Yeah, it’s like I think about it when you were talking about, oh, you have to swear an oath of allegiance when you become a citizen. I was like.

S2: That might feel especially hard to do at this moment, but for lots of people, for me, American citizen, yeah, it’s just I have so many American friends, students, colleagues that I care about and I want the best for them. Like I said, I am in a very privileged position of how I could afford to become a citizen. I can read the paperwork myself. So I just I keep thinking about all those people that cannot vote or that have no funds to become a citizen or who need extra help to go through the immigration process and just navigate all the paperwork you have to sort through. So I’m kind of feel like I’m voting for them as well for those people that will not have a voice because they are not citizens.

S5: Hoffa, thank you so much for joining me.

S2: Thank you so much. I hope that my story can help other people who are on the fence and other immigrants that would like to consider become a citizen to vote Heffalump.

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S5: Ardino is a first time voter, a translator and the co-host of the podcast Translation Confessional. And that’s the show. Before we go, I want to thank all of the listeners who have been reaching out with your voting stories in Arizona. Trisha called up to tell us about the voting party she hosted remotely.

S6: Hey, Mary, my name is Tricia and I live in northern Arizona. I’d like to share a voting story. Since the pandemic began, I’ve been visiting with a group of friends over Zoome about once a month. The four of us are all retired teachers across Arizona and we pay very close attention to the political world. So for our most recent meeting this past weekend, we decided to hold a ballot party resume. We all came prepared with our ballots, our questions and information to share about the candidates for office that we have in common. And we also made sure that each of us had a plan for turning in our ballot. For the record, none of us has ever missed an opportunity to vote in our entire voting lifetimes. We consider this election to be the most important one we have ever faced. Thanks for everything you do. Take care. Bye bye.

S5: You can see a photo of this voting party. If you head over to my Twitter, I’m at Mary’s Desk. What Next is produced by Mary Wilson, Jason de Leon, Danielle Hewett and Ilana Schwartz. We are led by Allison Benedikt, Emily Schmidt memory. And I’m Mary Harris. I will catch you back here with more. What next? Tomorrow.