Starting a tradition A first-time voter reflects on what makes this a most memorable experience

Ilyne and Martin Castellanos | Provided photo

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By Ilyne Castellanos

Weeks ago, my mother and I took out our laptops, heated some canela tea, and sat on our living room floor to vote. My little sister watched on as we methodically voted on each of the many propositions, cross-checked different voter guides, and debated the ones we weren’t sure of. My father walked in, muttering about how as much as he wanted Biden to win, he just knew that a repeat of 2016 was going to happen.

My mother, sister, and I booed him out of the living room, and although we were confident in our vote, the anxiety was palpable. That unshakable tension has stayed in the air as election day has passed.

Is it better to know or not to know? This unprecedented, historic, and slow-motion election has shown me that the uncertainty is nearly unbearable. I can feel the hours drag on as I fastidiously check election results and worry. I thought that once Nov. 3 got here, there would be more clarity, but as the day arrived, it was evident that the suspense would only grow.

After voting for the first time, I felt in control. Sealing the envelope felt familiar, as I had always sat and helped my parents research the different candidates and propositions on the ballots. I was able to vote for candidates who I knew personally; I was able to vote on measures that made me excited for the future in California. Despite all the positive changes coming, it is still difficult to focus on the positive.

"When this election is over, I will never forget the situations that have made these past four years so frightening."

Several of my friends voted for the first time as well, including my lifelong best friend. I could not help but smile as her mother mentioned how proud she was of her daughter. She called my best friend “mi voz,” or “my voice.” Many of us this year are someone else’s voice as well. Maybe you voted for the women, people of color, LGBTQ+, or undocumented people in your life. Many people whose interests are not reflected in election results benefit from these voices. Showing solidarity and compassion for those who are underrepresented made participating in my first election that much more meaningful.

It also makes the results that much more meaningful.

When this election is over, I will never forget the situations that have made these past four years so frightening. I will never release the fear of possibly living in this country without my best friend and loved ones. I won’t forget the fear of being told what I can and cannot do with my body. I will not forget the people we all saw die on camera at the hands of the police. How can we? How can we forget these things so quickly? So many more tragic events have transpired, and some have yet to conclude. Those events and new iterations of them are what people fear every day. I know I do not just speak for myself when I say that I am tired of the fear.

Though the world will still be fighting a pandemic, injustices, and fear, knowing the outcome of the election might bring some kind of peace to the United States. Perhaps there is solace in knowing what the next four years might look like. Or maybe, that kind of speculation is gone. I know I did not see 2020 coming the way it did. My first time voting will be my most memorable not because it’s the first, but because of the events leading up to it. This election feels like a culmination of four years of chaos, and that chaos seems to have no end regardless of what the result may be.

Going with my father to vote was perhaps my favorite part of the entire process. We went over his ballot dozens of times. He got upset at the fact that he forgot to take the receipt stub from his ballot and nearly got an entirely new envelope. He made me go back to the polling place to grab a sticker because he left his mail-in sticker at home. He wanted to take a picture with me for all his family to see on Facebook. He was so excited and proud to have voted in this election. I felt the same way.

That feeling of pride, and wanting to make a difference is the exact reason why despite everything, I am glad I voted. Despite the constant stream of negativity and bad news that circulates daily, I was able to take a pause with my family, and join a family tradition for the very first time. For the first time, I used my vote to speak up for the values and policies I want to see in my city, county, state, and country. I just hope it was enough.

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Ilyne Junuén Castellanos

About Ilyne Junuén Castellanos

Ilyne Junuén Castellanos is a graduate of Everett Alvarez High School in Salinas and is pursuing a double major in political science and Spanish at Hartnell College.