She completed the process of voting almost as quietly as she began it. Once the second envelope was sealed, she changed out of her nightgown into a T-shirt, shorts and sandals. Then, pulling on a face mask, she went down to the lobby of the apartment building to drop off her ballot in the mail slot. In the same silence, she returned.
Yet I could feel the solemnity of this moment, the weight in the air, the slight shift that is like the tingle of electricity when a single voice is raised, when all of those precious, precious words in our English lexicon that are capitalized — Truth, Hope, Freedom — seem to stir, for a moment, and awake from their slumber.
My mother has told me this is the only country she recognizes and calls her own, even as, in recent months, otherwise straightforward trips to the grocery store and local mall have become exercises in both patience and resilience. This is her country, a place she has lived in and embraced as her home for over 30 years. She lives a simple life; she has no ambitions, no greater aspirations other than to continue to keep a roof over her head and hold down a job.
This is what my mother has taught me, by her example: The insults, the heartache, the injustice and the deep, deep roots of the systemic racism ingrained in this country neither dispel nor negate the daily, even hourly, opportunity for change that is as pervasive and a part of this country’s complicated patchwork as its hate- and blood-filled history. Hard as it may be, we must try not to forget this.
My mother hasn’t forgotten, and for the first time in her life, she no longer relegated herself to the crowd of the voiceless in this nation. She voted, and come November, she will vote again.
Katherine J. Chen is a contributor to the forthcoming historical fiction anthology “Stories From Suffragette City.”