As a foreign born Latino, I know first-hand the experience of growing up and trying to assimilate in this country. Even as an elected official there exist many subtle reminders in the way we are portrayed in the media; how our children are treated in schools, even in college; and even the way we are spoken to in professional life.
For long periods of time, things seem to be getting better, and then one day you get a letter in the mail saying that if you exercise a basic American right, you are going to be jailed or deported.
This letter, which I received less than three weeks ago, was attempting to scare and intimidate 14,000 voters in Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez’ district–my family was just one of the targets.
Some would like to say this was an isolated incident, but not far from my home was a similar poster that read, in Spanish, “are you illegal or a resident? If you vote, you get booted.” A whole book could be written about similar voter-suppression tactics here in Orange County, throughout the state and throughout the nation.
That’s why we have the Voting Right’s Act and why the California Latino Caucus recently called on stricter penalties for voter intimidation. Thankfully, this is not being swept under the rug. An investigation is underway, and prosecution is likely.
However, before we move on, it is important to note one of the saddest elements of this whole controversy: This snide letter, which sought to scare immigrants like me out of exercising one of our most sacred rights, came from a fellow immigrant.
Tan Nguyen is a second-generation American, just like me. His parents worked in the fields, just like mine. He has a son, Evan, who will face just the same challenges as my two boys, Diego and Michael. Mr. Nguyen’s family and mine have more commonalities than distinctions–yet the cultural biases among his supporters and politics of ethnic division, which he apparently espouses, will forever put us at odds.
It seems that some immigrants resort to self-loathing and others embrace their heritage; I proudly choose the latter. I want my children to know that they came from a family that worked in the fields and fought to earn their version of the American promise. And I want to provide this opportunity to other families.
My continuing hope for immigrant communities is one reason I first ran for office. It has inspired me to work harder on the Santa Ana City Council, and it fuels my desire to do something meaningful for my community when I come to Sacramento as a state Assemblyman.
Given the publicity over the Nguyen letter and his initial intent, a higher than anticipated number of voters, 37,693, came to the polls to exercise their constitutional right to vote, free of intimidation, jail or deportation.
Regardless of whether you are a U.S. born or naturalized citizen who arrived to this county as an immigrant, you have a statement. A statement that transcends social and economic lines and lets our continuing and newly elected officials know their obligation to their constituents of hope and opportunity.
This hope extends beyond an expression of what it means to be Latino–it is about what it means to be an immigrant hoping for a better life for your family, whether you’re from Central America, Vietnam or Armenia. It is about using our state’s resources to provide safety and protection to these communities so they can improve their lives. It is about giving them a quality K-12 education so they can obtain the tools to achieve, then opening doors to college and ensuring that there will be high-wage careers there when they graduate. It is about creating the pathway for them to create a better life for their children and grandchildren.
I look forward to serving and representing my constituency in the Legislature this coming year. As a public servant, elected to represent the people, my goal is to hold strong to the ideals of inclusion, hope and opportunity for all Californians.