by Ella Mendoza
I’ve always felt pressured to celebrate the elections. I grew up undocumented and Latinx in a home where celebrating American culture meant praising everything that Americans did. My decision not to vote for a president isn’t complicated. I’m not a registered voter. I’m also not a citizen, which makes not voting for president in the upcoming election a whole lot easier. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t vote even if I could.
As a child, I was told that voting was not only a right, but also a duty. Our media and our schools celebrate voting for presidents in elections, enforcing the idea that the system will always work as long as we participate. For undocumented folks and people of color, voting not only means choosing our killer, but also celebrating a system that has pushed poverty onto our people, stolen and poisoned our crops, assaulted our grandmothers, and forced us into a state of migration that is then justified as reason to continue a cycle of violence upon our bodies.
The current president of the United States deported more people than any president before him. He just recently unleashed a wave of raids targeting migrant children and families — something he had previously promised that he would never ever do. President Obama is, however, just one of many anti-immigrant politicians in a legacy of ongoing raids and violence against my communities.
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As far as I’m concerned, every single person running in the current presidential elections is just another future deporter, another future murderer. Between Sanders’ plan to “promote cooperation between immigrants and local law enforcement” and Clinton’s oh-so-benevolent plan to “conduct humane, targeted immigration enforcement“, Democratic candidates are quietly and politely saying what Donald Trump has been yelling all along: “A nation without borders is not a nation.” And in this short statement, Trump encompasses what all politicians agree on: this nation was built for many people, but not for all, and certainly not for me.
Republicans have traditionally held the most xenophobic stances. A quick visit to Bernie’s website, however, will show you an immigration plan centered on the legalization of youth and workers. These capitalistic spotlights center the narrative of human rights only for those who “deserve” them. The Democratic Party is fully aware that a broken immigration system brings in a flow of cash and cheap labor, all at the expense of migrants who are treated as if their very existence and migration are criminal acts.
As undocumented people, we are told that our bodies have broken laws that were made to control us. As migrants, many of us have seen firsthand the effects of the United States’ grip on our homelands. And, as indigenous people, our culture has been intentionally targeted by laws placed long before we were born.
The names of my tribes are lost and the land that I love is far from my reach, but by placing my voice against these atrocities, I am making a choice that goes beyond voting. When I think about the future of this country, I think about how our ancestors must have felt, when they were running, fighting, and dreaming, before colonialism. I am, in my own way, becoming their voice.
The “American Dream” is offered to us as a reward but it often feels like a reluctant choice made out of the need to assimilate. There are many of us who do not agree with current American policies and are proud to be non-citizens, yet moved here for work, housing, and opportunities. Our migration meant a choice for ourselves and our families, yet in coming here we are often asked to leave our culture and values behind. The choice to not participate is a very intentional one. We do not accept your values. We do not accept your culture. And this does not mean that we deserve any less human rights than those who do accept it.
Just as the good immigrant/bad immigrant narrative decides who lives and who is justified being killed, the good politician/bad politician narrative is there to lull us into a sense of safety. There is no good and benevolent politician, and there is no evil one either. They are both the same person in a suit, trying to get you to vote for them and for the hundreds-years-old murderous history of this country. By making the presidential elections a choice between “the lesser of two evils”, we are given a sense of control that walks hand in hand with a sense of false patriotism. If we do not vote, we are not American enough. If we do vote for president, it is often for the one who will become our killer.
Like many cruelties around the lives of marginalized people, we have become accustomed to living in a police state. Assimilation has come with the policing of our own bodies, as the media tells us that the only way to make it better is to follow the rules and vote. By making us feel unsafe and without choices, the electoral process is erasing not just one part of ourselves, but all of us. Asking us to decide between stability and identity, future and culture, is an impossible choice. We can never forget who we are and how we got here. For many of us, that is all that we have left.
There are many things that can be done with my energy that do not include pretending that I want to support any of the people running for president. I am more than an immigrant, and I am more than a potential voter.
This electoral process was not made for me, nor for my people. They have tried to kill us, but we will never believe their lies.
Ella Mendoza is an undocumented femme, originally from the Quechua region of Peru, currently traveling the so-called-united-states, learning art, poetry, and how to never say goodbye. Her work and scattered thoughts are available at www.ellita.net.
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