What do I want for my kids on Election Day when they grow up? I want more for them than for myself, as all parents wish.
I want them to show up at the voting booths and be grateful that we live in a democracy. I want them to be informed and vote with intelligence. I want them to wear the “I voted” sticker after they have voted, until we can increase voter turn out to 100 percent. I want them to not have to suffer long lines. And I want them to not have to hear the voting clerk ask “where are you from?” because they don’t have the skin color or facial structures of the most recent colonizers and eradicators of indigenous peoples from this land.
While I’ve got four out of five of those wishes, I hope that in less than a decade, when it comes time for my children to vote, that they might score five out of five in their experience.
Most recently, when I went to pick up my ballots at the Brunswick Middle School gym, the volunteer who checked off my name proceeded to tell me that I must be Korean, as I only have two letters in my last name. When told he was incorrect, he asked that very loaded question, “where are you from?”
Perhaps the appropriate reply would have been, “I’m from Brunswick,” maybe with a piqued tone. Instead, I smiled back at him and told him that his son-in-law, who happens to be Korean, is incorrect: it is possible to have a two-letter last name and come from other parts of Asia.
The volunteer was in no way menacing. He was kindly. He moved swiftly and efficiently, and my interpretation of our exchange is that he was trying to make friendly conversation.
If I could do it over again, I would communicate with the volunteer that when he initiated a conversation about my race, it made me feel like I might belong at that voting booth less than a person of European descent. Did he outright say this? Of course not. Those four words, “where are you from?,” which can plague people of color at Maine check-out lines, stores, or restaurants, always imply that we must be from away.
I understand that many who live and grow up in Maine are curious about the life experience of those from away. And yes, I am from away: I grew up near one of the most diverse metropolises in America. However, at the voting booth, this distinction is inappropriate. I would ask that leaders of volunteer training for Election Day might consider my story, especially in the context of voter discrimination in other parts of the United States.
Cicy Po lives in Brunswick.