Maria and I were roommates last year, our freshman year in college. With a presidential election unfolding around us, our conversation always touched on the political. Although we were aligned in views, we stood apart because of our respective citizenship papers. Unlike me, Maria â€“ a green card holder waiting on full citizenship â€“ could not act on her deeply felt opinions. She couldnâ€™t vote.
In April 1997, when she was about to turn eight, Maria emigrated with her mother and sister from Lima, Peru. The 1980sÂ had been a time of domestic terrorism in Peru, and during the nineties, Maria told me, Peruvians experienced the aftershocks of this social unrest. Though Mariaâ€™s family lived in a â€œniceâ€ area in a financial district, one day a bank was blown up down the street of their home. This prompted Mariaâ€™s mother to uproot her daughters, ages four and eight, and move to the States, where their father already lived. The family moved to Skokie, a suburb of Chicago in which they had cousins.
Today, twelve years later, Maria is on the verge of becoming a full-fledged, naturalized citizen of the United States. Mariaâ€™s father, who has spent years working in the States, has only a few months before he is able to make the final legal leap to citizenship. Once he applies, he can petition for his family members to become citizens as well.
But this change in legal status comes with its complications, both political and emotional. Although Maria looks forward to being an American citizen, she doesnâ€™t want to give up her Peruvian citizenship. Her plan instead is to complete the longer, more complicated process to becoming a dual citizen.
As a dual citizen, Maria hopes to have an equal influence in both Peruvian and American elections.
â€œElections in Peru are corrupt,â€ Maria said. â€œBut I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s an excuse to not vote.â€
From Chicago affairs to changes in Peruvian governance, Maria is deeply entrenched in politics. Although she canâ€™t vote, she recently campaigned for local Congressional candidate Dan Seals and makes sure to stay constantly informed about changing American policy. During the presidential election, Maria paid careful attention to the candidatesâ€™ stances on immigration â€“ knowing this could affect her own path to citizenship.
When Election Day rolled around, Maria felt the gap between her fully realized political engagement and her frustrated involvement in American politics. It was particularly hard, she told me, to see everyone wearing stickers given out by Starbucks saying, â€œI Voted.â€
â€œI remember feeling all the energy â€“ everyone was excited,â€ she said. â€œI saw all the pins. I shared all the excitement but felt… I myself canâ€™t be [as excited]. Iâ€™m 18 and this is such a historic election, but I canâ€™t vote. I felt like I was missing out.â€
As an American citizen in 2012, Maria expects to feel very different watching election returns. And as a dual citizen, she hopes she can simultaneously keep her connection to politics in Peru.
â€œIt wouldnâ€™t feel right to just be one thing,â€ she said. â€œI know I would still be Peruvian heart. If I can help it, I donâ€™t want to give up something that informs me today. Iâ€™m really proud of my country and donâ€™t want to give it up.â€