My first presidential election was in 2004, and I was ready as HECK to cast my vote. One, because it's important (duh); and two, because as a Puerto Rican, I did not previously have this right, simply because I lived in a colony (I mean, a "freely associated state"). I wasn't going to ignore my newfound privilege. The night Bush won his second term, I got hella depressed and decided to dye my hair blonde in a huff. It came out terrible, and I had to dye it black the next day to cover it up. I voted for Obama in 2008. I was a huge ball of nerves before he won, thinking, God knows something will happen to McCain and we will end up with Sarah Palin as president. shudders I remember waiting for the results at a bar in Brooklyn, and when the Obama win was finally announced, the whole bar, nay, the whole street, erupted in cheers and cries. Strangers hugged each other. There were free shots all around. It was wonderful.
I keep thinking back to those elections past as we count down the days to November 8. Whatever our nerves, whatever our fears were in previous years, they have been multiplied exponentially beyond any level of acceptable stress. I started smoking again.
On the phone with María Teresa Kumar, the president and CEO of Voto Latino, an organization that aims to engage Latinos in the democratic process, I immediately felt a kinship with her, and it calmed me down. She told me that she realized she needed to get involved with Voto Latino — which was founded by the actress Rosario Dawson — after seeing a commercial with Tego Calderón, a Puerto Rican rapper and icon. He told the audience: "Register to vote because I can't."
"It touched me, and said out loud something that I felt, that while I was proud to be Latina, I was American," María Teresa remembers. While I sometimes struggle with my identity — am I giving up my Puerto Rican–ness the longer I live in the States, the more I adapt to this way of life? — I realized that she was right. I am proud to be Puerto Rican, but I am also an American.
María Teresa and I talked about her political path, growing up between two cultures, and why it's so important for the aesthetics of Voto Latino to be on par with any other political organization. The election is in just a few days, and I implore all of you to please go out and vote. This one is truly too important to sit out.
Laia Garcia: Can you talk to me about your experience growing up between California and Colombia?
María Teresa Kumar: I was raised in Sonoma, California, and I would spend my summers in Bogotá, and my mom would always tell me that she went back to Colombia because she wanted me to really appreciate my biculturalism. It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that it hit me that it was because she was a single mom and needed to save on child care over the summer.
Oftentimes, people say, "Sonoma is so beautiful!" And that's absolutely true. My mother and my family helped make it beautiful. My mother was a housekeeper for a time, and I've had relatives that were grape growers and caretakers. So from the beginning, I was able to see up front the duality of two different worlds based on being Latino. In Colombia, we'd go and I'd see people dressed in suits, and it wasn't until I was 21 or 22, when I first came to Washington, DC, for an internship, that I actually saw women of color and men of color dressed in suits in the U.S.