Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=102305
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 8:38:26 PM CST
21-year-old Santos Espinoza reviews his address list while volunteering in Cicero.
Father’s legal status motivates son to vote, volunteer
Santos Espinoza said he always assumed his father, who emigrated from Mexico more than 20 years ago, had become a legal U.S. citizen.
So when he started volunteering last summer to register new voters in immigrant communities, he naturally asked his father to register.
Espinoza said he was shocked when his father said he could not vote because he was not a U.S. citizen.
“I was like ... wait, wow,” Espinoza said. “I never asked him before because it never came up and I just thought it was over with.”
Last June, Espinoza had just quit his job at Foot Action at the North Riverside Park mall. The 21-year-old then received a call to help a friend with a new statewide voter project.
Espinoza, although he wasn’t registered to vote and had never volunteered before, agreed and gave it a try.
Now, he said, he can’t get enough.
Since July, Espinoza has been a part of the New Americans Democracy Project, which has helped to register more than 25,000 new voters across the state. The Illinois Coalition of Immigrants and Refugee Rights sponsored the initiative and has enlisted 21 organizations to help.
Volunteers like Espinoza go door to door in different communities with surveys, applications and flyers. There is no partisan agenda -- they just want people to register and to vote.
“It’s fulfilling because you feel like you really helped somebody,” Espinoza said. “The [immigrants] are thanking us and I’m thanking them right back, because it’s rewarding for me, too.”
Espinoza, who lives in Berwyn, connected with Federación de Clubes Michoacanos, an organization that helps immigrants transition into U.S. society with citizenship classes and workshops.
Michoacanos are Mexicans who trace their ancestry to Michoacán, one of Mexico’s 31 states.
More than 900 new voters have been registered in Berwyn since July. Espinoza set his own personal best at Morton College when he registered 30 new voters in one day.
“A lot of the people I talk to don’t know where to register or how or when,” Espinoza said. “I try to encourage them to let their voice be heard and be active about issues they care about, such as immigration reform.”
Espinoza, who attended Farragut Career Academy, registered to vote in the summer and cast his first-ever ballot last week.
He said he could not work to register and motivate others if he had never experienced the process himself.
“It’s something I had to take care of for myself,” he said. “People have invited me into their homes and asked me questions. I can now tell them from my own personal experience voting is possible.”
Espinoza’s father, Ricardo, lives in Joliet and is in the process of becoming a citizen.
Espinoza smiles when asked how he will feel when his father's process is complete.
“It’s going to be great, a big sense of relief,” he said. “I’ll think to myself, finally ... my father is just like me.”