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Personal Essay on Latino Voter Turnout

My Abuela Has Voted in Every Election Since Leaving Cuba, and I Need to Follow Her Lead

Kelsey Garcia is an assistant editor at POPSUGAR.

It's August in Miami — a humid one, as ever — and I'm sitting in my abuela's living room on a couch that used to be in the fancy living room where no one sits, but it has since been moved. The local news is on and a reporter is talking about a botched gas station robbery. To interrupt the mundane quality of the news report, my abuela notes that early voting had begun in Miami-Dade County for the midterm elections. That's when she tells me that she's never missed an election in her six decades living in the United States. "Never," she emphasizes to my boyfriend in labored English.

It's true: Hilda Garcia — or Aba Hilda as she's referred to by her grandchildren — left Artemisa, Cuba just before the rise of the Castro regime, and has since made it a point to vote in every US election since becoming a citizen. She's now 92 years old. This is no small feat for a woman who was never able to drive and has always had some difficulty walking after contracting polio as a child. So, she instead had family members drive her to the polls all those years and, more recently, she's been voting by mail to avoid bothering said family members.

You know that trope of grandparents saying they had to trek miles through the snow, and then up a hill to get to school? That's essentially my abuela with getting to the polls . . . or at least her rendition of the story.

You know that trope of grandparents saying they had to trek miles through the snow, and then up a hill to get to school? That's essentially my abuela with getting to the polls.

We don't always align politically, either. I remember my sister crying in my abuela's kitchen after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004. She had volunteered for John Kerry and turned 18 mere weeks after the election, so she was unable to vote. Hilda, meanwhile, had voted for Bush. When she saw how upset my sister was she said she hadn't realized how important the election was to her, and she might've voted differently had she known. We don't really get into the specifics anymore.

I can't really fault her though. When she finally left Cuba — after my abuelo had already made it to Miami to begin working and set up their soon-to-be life there — my abuela says she took in the archipelago from the plane and knew it would be her last time looking at it. It's hard for us to see eye-to-eye politically when she's a traumatized political exile and I've grown up under the same (moderately) stable, democratic government my entire life. Of course, we don't share the same worldview — dictatorships will do that to you.

With midterm elections approaching, I've realized I need to wake up and follow in her footsteps. Though I typically make it a point to vote in major elections, in the past I'll admit I've skipped some local elections under the assumption that I tend to share the same ideals as your average New Yorker, especially your average Latinx New Yorker. The problem though, is that it perpetuates the bystander effect, like when no one ends up standing up for someone in need for a seat on the subway because everyone assumes someone else will volunteer. I can't allow for that to happen because, as my abuela relishes in reminding me, she didn't leave Cuba for this sh*t.

My abuela and I on her 90th birthday in 2016.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kelsey Garcia
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