By Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay
Last November, I voted for the first time in the U.S. elections. I had waited for that day for many years. I worked very hard to earn the right to vote in this country. So there’s something I just can’t wrap my head around: People who decide not to vote.
I came to the U.S. as a graduate student on a student visa and, for the next eleven years, I transitioned from one visa to the next on my path to citizenship. I studied on a student visa for six years. Then I moved onto work visas until I was granted a green card and permanent residency in the U.S. Then it was another five years before I could become a U.S. citizen. During those 16 years, I earned a Ph.D. in biophysics and biochemistry, entered the American workforce, paid taxes, made friends, got married and started a family. I embraced all things Americana, including PB&J, baseball and catchphrases from “Seinfeld.” I taught myself the biographies of the Founding Fathers and have read the Constitution and some of the Federalist Papers.
As I worked toward U.S. citizenship, I made painful sacrifices. Because of my commitment to build a life through education and work in this country, I missed much of my baby brother’s childhood. I couldn’t be by my grandparents’ sides during their final months. I fret and worry about my parents’ health and wellbeing from afar, having to call after surgeries to see how things are going but knowing that if anything goes wrong, it’ll take me at least 48 hours and thousands of dollars to get to them. So you see, when I took the oath to be an American citizen nearly three years ago and swore to abide by the rule of this land and pledge allegiance to its flag, I valued it because of all the wonderful things I gained in this country, but also because of the sacrifice I made for it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I had to do to cast my vote last November. In remembering all the years that passed, the milestones achieved and the heartache endured before I could enter a polling station, I can’t fathom why someone with the right to vote decides that it isn’t worth embracing. Is it cynicism? Is it laziness? The honor and power to craft our nation into the place we all want it to be resides in our vote. If you were to ask me, if a privilege so powerful as the right to vote gets handed to you at birth, cherish it and, more importantly, use it.