What if a refugee asks, “Who did you vote for?”

Photo generously provided here.

I’ve been asked a couple times over the last few weeks, “Who did you vote for?”

Not by my American friends. No, they’ve probably already assumed who I voted for. Most would choose the thrill of speculation over just asking the question.

My refugee students are different though. They’re not afraid to ask.

They’ve not asked with any hint of malice, judgement, or anger in their tones. I can’t hear a single tone of offense or unkindness in their voice. They’re just genuinely curious.

Americans know this question is personal – impolite even. Our reserved and individualized culture is so deeply woven within us, this question might surprise us coming from the wrong person. Our default answer to that big question might sound something like: my vote is my vote, and it’s none of your business unless I invite you into it.

Instead of getting offended by this question, I have to step into the shoes of a refugee.

This has been my first presidential election I’ve been a part of in my time working on the field with refugees and immigrants. I was surprised to learn how invested my students have been in this great, American process. This is their front row seat to democracy in action, and that’s not a thing to be taken lightly.

Refugees don’t know what it’s like to vote.

Many of the people who resettled here in the States fled broken, war-torn countries. They had no vote or say; they were forced to leave.

But here we are, a nation of free people who each have a responsibility to exercise our right to vote so that our nation doesn’t cave in. The foundational component of our nation is our human right to vote. Though we have not always exercised that well, we’re trying. America might not be perfect, but at least our citizens have a right to speak up. We get a say in the direction we want our country to go in.

Have you ever considered how incredible that thought is?

This is very different than other nations across the world. Take the refugee friends in our communities, for example. They’ve never had a say. No one has ever asked their opinion about who should be in office. In fact, they’ve been forced to leave their heart land because of corrupt government and powerful people who said they didn’t belong. Basic human rights are stripped from the refugee, including their voice and vote to create a safe, flourishing nation.

Our right to elect arguably the most powerful position in the world is a privilege. It’s a wonder to those who can’t participate.

They can’t vote, but they can care.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve seen my formers students from Hong Kong sharing articles on social media about the U.S. election. This is mind-blowing to me – to realize that an entire world is watching how this pans out. It so happens that some of our friends of other cultures are here on American soil, unable to vote but still fully invested in the election.

I can’t speak for my friends overseas, but I know one thing for certain: our refugee and immigrant friends on American soil care how this turns out. I’m going to state this bluntly –

They love this country.

Refugees who were resettled in the States are so grateful to be here. They wish no harm to come upon our nation, this place that we both call home. They hope for freedom, peace, and opportunity just as much as much as any natural-born citizen.

They’re here for the long run. They’re impacted by our vote just as much, if not more, than we are.  What happens in this election might affect the world, but it affects us here on American soil first and foremost. And no one hopes for a safe place to build a life in more than those who have made the long, dangerous, tiring trek to be here.

The people asking these hard questions are filling in the cultural gaps and making our country richer.

Our friends from other countries might not get how impolite it is to ask someone who got their vote simply because their culture is different from American culture.

Our American hearts shrink up and lock up at a bold question from a stranger. But our refugee friends’ hearts might say, “I’m unashamed to ask and share because I belong to my community, and my community belongs to me too. We’re in this together.”

That doesn’t make them wrong. It doesn’t make us right either. It does make American soil all the richer, deeper for making space for differing opinions and perspectives.

I’m grateful for the courage of my refugee students to ask the awkward questions.

What an honor it is to be a part of a decision that will affect people for generations to come, including my refugee friends. I must not ever forget that most people in this world don’t get a voice; I’ll strive to do well with the one I’ve been given. It truly is a gift.

English learners asked me a hard question, and they might have given the most helpful perspective this entire election season.

I hope one day I get the privilege to ask, “Student, who did you vote for?” I hope they don’t take offense to the question. I’m sure they won’t think I’m rude for asking. In fact, I bet they’ll beam with pride at the opportunity to speak up and mark their vote on a ballot.

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