October 7, 2012. Election Day in Venezeula. It was the single most important day in recent Venezuelan history. For the first time in years, we had the opportunity to make our voices heard. We stood united. We finally exercised our right to vote and proudly stand by our beautiful country. A country that has been through too much for too long. We had the power to change history. From wherever we were in the world, that day our hearts and souls were one. After decades of suffering at the hands of a corrupt government, the day had arrived for us to take the future into our own hands.
Flash forward thirty days. November 7, 2012. Election Day in the United States. After months of following the politics, after hours of reading and educating ourselves, after weeks of speeches, ads, and conventions, the day had officially come to fulfill our civic duty, to freely and openly embrace our right to vote as a proud citizen of the United States of America. A right that merely 92 years ago, I would not have had the honor to fulfill. As a twenty-year-old college student living in America, this Presidential Election marked the first time I would be eligible to vote. I followed the campaign closely, I made informed decisions, I armed myself with knowledge. Election Day could not come fast enough.
And yet… In the weeks leading up to this momentous day, I began to hear comments from the people around me. Complaints about “this annoying election.” Total disinterest in either candidate. No intention to register to vote. Desires that it would “just end already.” I could hardly believe it. How could people not realize the amazing power they held just for being a citizen of this country? To know that in a country of over 300 million people spread out across fifty states, their opinion could actually make a huge difference in the future. To know that when they went to vote, they did not have to second-guess a distrustful government. That their vote actually counted. That they matter.
I was born in Venezuela. I grew up in the United States. I have dual citizenship. I have rights in two separate countries. In one, my voice is heard and counted. What I say, think, and feel actually matters. In the other, my voice gets lost among a corrupt government, snatched away by the selfish hands of shady politicians. When my vote opposes the established order, it is disregarded, thrown out, ignored, invalidated. I am disregarded, thrown out, ignored, invalidated.
As October 7, 2012 was ticking away its last minutes, the results came in. I knew deep in my heart that nothing would change. I knew these elections were just for show. I knew Chavez would win again. But knowing it did not make watching the news any easier. Because a tiny part of me hoped beyond hope for a miracle. If it was ever going to happen, it would be now. It would be this man, Henrique Capriles, from my very own home state of Miranda, that would lead us out of this hell. Months of watching him bring hope to Venezuelans everywhere, of knowing the good he could do, and knowing how much we needed it, you couldn’t help but believe that just maybe things might change. As the official result flashed across the TV screen, I felt the entire weight of my country fall down to its knees, crushed, trampled, and defeated. It meant nothing. Your vote meant nothing. You mean nothing.
Last night, November 7, I waited anxiously for the results of the 2012 Presidential Election. Three news channels on simultaneously, my laptop open, my phone vibrating. On my sweater, I proudly wore the sticker I had received earlier that day. An American flag next to the words “I Voted.” As I watched the coverage, I couldn’t believe how close some states were. There were moments when Florida, specifically my hometown in Broward County, had a difference of only 300 votes! That’s less than my graduating high school class. Every single vote counts. My vote counts. I count. When the official results broke the news, I cheered and laughed and celebrated. And I knew that regardless of who I had voted for, my voice had been heard in this election. I helped shape our future.
Ignorance is the most dangerous thing we could ever let seep into our culture. We live in a country where if you speak up, someone is there to listen. If you form educated opinions, you can express them without fear of repercussions. If you want things to change, you matter enough to make it happen. Never, ever take the right to vote for granted. It is one of the most incredible and empowering things you can do as a citizen.
I am proud to be Venezuelan. No matter what happens in the next few years, I will keep fighting until the end. But I am just as proud to be an American. I am so proud to live in this country. I am so proud of the things we can do. I am so proud of the things we have accomplished. And I will never take that for granted.