When I was a senior in high school, at the incomparable Brooklyn Tech, our senior class President Mitch Palin was registering kids to vote for the next presidential election. This was going to be the 1972 election, and the liberal favorite George McGovern was running against the reactionary boogieman Richard Nixon.
“Are you a registered voter?” Mitch asked me one day.
“I’m not a citizen. I was born in Mexico.”
“When did you come to the country?”
“When I was 2.”
“Are your parents citizens?”
“My dad is.”
“Oh, then you’re a citizen too!”
And that’s how I ended up voting for George McGovern in 1972. And even though Mitch Palin was technically correct, the derivative citizenship isn’t automatic, it has to be claimed; there is paperwork to be filled out.
That same year I registered for the draft, a couple of months late, again owing to my confusion as to my citizenship status. I found out if you are a permanent resident you can be drafted. I wrote a letter of apology to the U.S. Government.
I didn’t vote much after that, and when I enlisted in the army at the age of 25 a few years later I filled out the paperwork for citizenship, but forgot to file it. It would have been only $25 in 1979 for me as a service member.
Cut to 2007, 28 years later. After 3 or 4 voir dires, and one election, (I voted for Mark Green in 2000) I was actually applying for citizenship the proper way. When you register to vote you are also registering to serve on juries, therefore the voir dires. No matter how often I moved, those jury summonses kept coming. And by this time I was paralyzed with fear. What if they found out I’d voted for McGovern and wasn’t properly documented? If I’d gone to Vietnam and gotten my ass shot off, would I have been awarded posthumous citizenship? Does it really matter? I live here, I consider myself an American, I’ve paid taxes and social security since I was 14; shouldn’t I have a say so in our government?
But there’s the rub, our government, the great red tape dispenser. Fill out forms A, B, C, etc. ad nausea and enclose a check for $600. A far cry from 1979, eh?
In the fall of 2008 I was granted a citizenship interview. I was hoping to become a citizen before the election, so I could vote for Obama. But it wasn’t to be; the swearing in was to be after the election.
I briefly considered voting anyway, I was after all registered, but I didn’t think that would be kosher considering all the trouble I was going through to make it right.
During the interview I was worried about a couple of past indiscretions on my record, when I was young and reckless, but the interviewer brushed them off by saying: “That was a long time ago.” I passed muster, I was finally going to be legal, and my swearing in would be January 17, 2009.
The day I was sworn in. T-Shirt courtesy of Vicki Perlman ( Sometimes Alspector)
Of course the first election I voted in was the 2012 presidential election, I was one of the many who put Barrack Obama over the top. There was some confusion as to my address at the polling place, but I did the affidavit thing.
So last week I went to the same polling place, the public school on Cook Street, and voted for Bill DeBlasio. Not really my ideal choice, but the Democratic candidate.
I went to vote with my dad once, when I was a kid, and he took me into the voting booth with him. It was the old fashioned voting machine with the handle on the side and little levers next to the candidate’s names. My dad picked all of the names that said “Democratic Party” next to them and flipped the levers to yes. Then he pulled the handle.
“See son, Democrats. We’re Democrats. Always vote Democratic party.”
Too bad he didn’t fill out the paperwork for my derivative citizenship. Now that would have been zeal.