First-time Hispanic voters in Siler City share voting experiences, hopes for 2020 election

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SILER CITY — Siler City resident Kimberly Lara has been sending letters to her congressional representatives and political leaders since she was in elementary school.

“In class, the teachers would jokingly ask, ‘Who here has talked to Obama?’” Lara said. “And I would tell them like, ‘Oh, I sent a letter,’ and people thought I was joking. They didn’t understand that was a thing you could do.”

But this year, she raised her voice another way. Finally 18, she just voted in her first general election — just like hundreds of thousands of first-time Hispanic voters across North Carolina, young or old, foreign-born or not.

Lara voted early Monday at Paul Braxton Gym with a fellow first-time voter — as well as quite a few cheerleaders for democracy.

“The part that really stood out to me was how many people were there in support of first-time voters,” she said, adding, “As soon as we stepped out of the car, I asked where we were supposed to go. And they’re like, ‘Are you a first-time voter?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and they started cheering us on.”

Though she said she knows local government has more direct influence on her life, national — and even global — issues drove her to the polls.

“Something I’m very, very passionate about is climate change, and I really like Biden’s plan,” she said. “It’s not exactly the Green New Deal that I wanted, but it’s really close to something and I really appreciate that.”

Lara also said she’d like to see immigrant families reunited after many were separated under the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, which sought to deter illegal immigration by separating parents and children who illegally crossed the border.

“It’s devastating,” she said.

Likewise, immigration policies are a top priority for Noemi Mora, a 19-year-old Siler City resident who works with the Hispanic Liaison. She just voted in her first general election, too.

“Voting is very important to me because it allows me to use my voice to stand up for others who can’t,” she said. “An issue that is very important to me is immigration, as I am the daughter of immigrants.”

Yet voting wasn’t quite the smooth ride she had hoped it’d be. She’d voted in person in the March primaries, and she said it’d been a quick experience, but this time, as always, COVID-19 changed everything.

“In these elections, I kind of always knew that I was going to vote through mail,” Mora said. “Just because what’s going on with coronavirus, I didn’t exactly want to be in line in a place where a lot of people were going to be.”

She sent out a written absentee ballot request in late August but heard nothing back. She began to get a little worried, especially after she heard her colleagues had received their ballots about a week after they’d requested them.

“And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, really? What did I do wrong?’” she said.

She sent out another written request and yet again didn’t receive a response, so finally she submitted an online request, which she said was “a lot better.” She received her ballot, and the ability to track it helped put her mind at ease.

“It was a little stressful simply because I was scared that my ballot wasn’t going to be accepted or that it was going to take too long to get to the Chatham County Board of Elections,” she said, but everything worked out.

María Asunción Rosas Moreno immigrated from Mexico to Siler City six or seven years ago. In 2017, she became a U.S. citizen, and now in 2020, she just cast her ballot for the first time.

“I got to vote now because previously, when there was the other national election, I was still a resident,” she said, “and now that I’m a citizen, I can vote for the president ... the national (candidates), local (candidates), the governor, everything.”

Rosas Moreno, 40, wanted to vote in 2018, but she wasn’t sure how to register and couldn’t send in her application in time. But this time, she got help from the Hispanic Liaison.

“They helped me a bit with the address because I had the form completed,” she said, “but I just needed the exact address to know where to send it.”

Once registered, Rosas Moreno voted in person on Oct. 16, the second day of early voting. Among other things, she said she hopes election winners will work to bring jobs back from abroad.

“The changes I hope to see more than anything are that they give priority to the people residing in the country,” she said, adding, “And it’s also important all that we do to stop climate change because it affects people as much as it affects animals.”

All three first-time voters expressed faith in the power of even a single vote.

Voting is a privilege, Lara said, and it’s one many people in her community don’t have. That’s why she values even a single vote.

“It makes me kind of sad that I know that a lot of people want to do something that was so simple, and they can’t have the privilege of doing something that only takes a couple of minutes,” she said, “but it makes me feel good to know that I can do something about it even if it’s small.”

Besides, Lara added, if 1,000 people all think one vote doesn’t matter, “we lose 1,000 votes.”

That also resonates with Rosas Moreno.

“By voting, we make our voices count,” she said. “If we don’t vote, well, someone else has to decide for us.”

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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