Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day, a day when hundreds of thousands of people across the country will register to vote so they can be heard in this democracy.
I can’t wait to join them.
In a week, after more than 20 years in this country, I will be sworn in as a new citizen and register myself to vote in the upcoming local elections.
I was 14 years old when I arrived in this country. I came to the United States from Ecuador seeking a better life because when I came out as transgender, my father did not support me.
I have built community here in the United States, but it has been hard to survive. As a person without legal status for years, I was at risk of detention and deportation. When I was 23, I began my transition. I was fired from my job when I told my manager, and since then, finding work was virtually impossible. With other professional opportunities closed to me, I began to perform sex work because I didn’t have any other way to provide for myself.
Ten years ago, I joined the community organization Make the Road New York. Since then, I’ve been standing up more for myself. I stood up with my neighbors to demand equal rights for trans women and immigrants. Eventually, I was able to petition for citizenship. I was eager to become a citizen not just because it would protect me, but because I wanted to fully participate in this country’s democracy.
Once I received a green card in 2012, I was able to find a job as a home attendant and stopped doing sex work. I attended citizenship classes. Passing that test was one of the happiest days of my life.
Now I’m looking forward to two more milestones: becoming both a citizen and a registered voter. Particularly for immigrant communities that are so often under-registered and under-represented, it’s more important than ever those of us who are eligible get registered.
As a voter, I will be able to demand respect and dignity for my community where politicians notice most: at the polls.
Jessica Guaman is a member of Make the Road New York, a grassroots community organization serving and organizing immigrants and people of color.