The minority vote, and in particular the Latino vote, definitely helped Obama win. 80 percent of Latino, black and Asians voted for Obama in last week’s election, the same percentage as in 2008. In 2050, non-Hispanic whites are to become half or slightly less of the U.S. population and the GOP had best look out: So many have been commenting in the wake of the President’s reelection.
I have been feeling a bit bemused at all this commentary and not only because I’m Asian-American. In my Latin and ancient Greek classes at a small university in Jersey City, New Jersey, where white students are a minority, I often brought up the topic of elections in the weeks leading up to November 6. At my school, white students make up about 28 percent of the student population; black students, about 27 percent; Hispanic students, about 26 percent; Asian students about 11 percent.
Whenever I mentioned Mitt Romney, my students blinked and showed no response, so alien did the now-former GOP candidate seem to them.
While discussing democracy in ancient Athens and in the Roman Republic, I pointed out to my students that none of them, and certainly not myself, would have been eligible to vote, as only male citizens could. Women could not vote; resident foreigners (“metics” in ancient Greece) could not vote; slaves (who may have comprised a third of the population and were often one’s former, conquered, enemies) certainly could not vote.
After hearing all this, a young woman who’s from the Islands approached me after class and nervously asked me, did I think it was worth the effort for her to apply to vote by mail.
Of course! Every vote, your vote, counts, I immediately replied.
The student told me that she had already filled out the mail-in ballot application but could I look it over for her. She also asked me if I knew where she could purchase a stamp. I started to talk about the nearest post office, then realized that it is not close to the campus, it is not in the greatest neighborhood and, the last time I went there, there was one clerk behind the bars and bullet-proof glass and one very long line.
I told my student I would bring her a stamp. After she had left, another student who was waiting for the next class said he was now going to send in his mail-in ballot.
A few days later, the topic of Obama and the election surfaced again with a student (he is studying Greek to read the New Testament as he wants to be a minister) who’s from a town next to Newark where on many a winter day, the public schools were closed because there was no heat as a boiler had broken again and there weren’t readily available funds to fix it. ”Dr. Chew, I wasn’t able to vote in the last election because I was turning 18 in 2008 — and my birthday was the day after the election!” he said, clearly disappointed that he hadn’t been able to vote in the election that resulted in our first African-American president.
We talked a little about the first debate and my student looked sad and pained — I felt the same — in recalling Obama’s lackluster performance. We both agreed, after the past four years, we were having a hard time imagining seeing someone who wasn’t a minority in the White House.
“You can vote this time,” I said. “Yes and I am,” my student affirmed.
It’s been almost two weeks since I have seen my students. The Friday before Hurricane Sandy hit was Eid al-Adha and many students who are Muslim were not in class as they were celebrating the holiday. My school was closed for a week and a day because there was no electricity after the storm. Last Tuesday as I was nervously watching the votes being counted, I felt a rush of cheer on reading a status update from a student (who is black, Latina and Asian): ”All my love to President Obama.”
Election day has come and gone but for sure I’m asking my students if they voted. One can never be sure, but I’ve a good idea who many voted for.
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