This November, I’m casting #MyAAPIVote for my refugee parents.
My parents, particularly my dad, have always been skeptical of the democratic act of voting. “They’re all liars,” my dad would say, referring to any and all politicians that appeared on the evening news. It took a lot of persuasion to convince my mom to register to vote for the 2012 election. I tried to convince my dad as well, but he had refused. “I don’t believe in voting,” he simply said. So, when my mom casually asked me to register my dad to vote on a Sunday morning, I was surprised. “Can you help Daddy register to vote?” my mom asked. I swallowed my bite of avocado toast and looked at her, unsure that I had heard correctly. “I thought Daddy doesn’t believe in voting,” I said from the kitchen table. My mom rinsed off a plate and placed it in the dishrack. “Yes, but I am telling him to vote this year.” She continued to tidy the kitchen as I finished my breakfast. “How come?” I asked her. “Because this year’s election is important. It affects yours and Connie’s futures,” she said in Chinglish.
I didn’t question her any further and quickly seized upon the opportunity to register my dad to vote. I understand why my dad would not believe in voting.
As a boat refugee from Vietnam, my dad is rightfully distrustful of government and politicians. He was forced to leave his home because of the failures of government. A clash of political ideologies (along with French imperialism and American interference) escalated into a violent civil war in his backyard. From my dad’s perspective, the Vietnamese government had failed to protect and serve its people. Why would the American government be any different? Between 2008, when I first asked him to register to vote, to now, my dad must have changed his mind. He must have seen a grim reality reflected in the evening news, one that is tainted by police terror, rising xenophobia, and the widening wealth gap. He must have glimpsed a future where Donald Trump is president and decided that wasn’t the future he wanted for his daughters. “Never vote for that guy,” my dad said to me while I helped him register to vote online. My dad is very level-headed. I’ve never seen him get really angry or emotional for that matter. But I could tell that Donald Trump’s skittles irked him. In a Tweet by Donald Trump Jr., the Trump campaign compares human lives to candy. “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem,” the picture says.
My parents came to America to escape war and seek opportunity. They didn’t come to America to witness a presidential candidate incite intolerance against refugees and immigrants. They didn’t come to America to witness Black men and women, boys and girls, murdered by police. They didn’t come to America to witness gentrification, rising costs of living, and the many other issues that plague our communities. The America that they are witnessing now—that is not the America that they want to grow old in, or see me and my younger sister inherit.
For my parents, this upcoming election is about more than one candidate, one person. “It’s about the next generation,” my mom said to me. This November, my parents will be voting for me and my sister. #MyAAPIVote is for them, my family, and my future.