The moving story of one immigrant family whose son is finally stepping up to vote.

I’ve been in America, legally, for 34 years, but this year will be my first time voting in a general election.

My father, Jorge Alberto, arrived in New York City from Argentina on Aug. 26, 1965. He had $12 to his name, according to family legend.

My father in Buenos Aires circa 1955. Photo via Foglia Archives.


The challenge of the American dream seemed like a cakewalk for my dad — a budding chef and baker. He promptly got a job at a Meatpacking District slaughterhouse and found an affordable apartment for himself, wife, and three children. Everything was going well.

The third day on the job, his Argentinian friend approached him and asked, in their native tongue, how everything was going. My father, in Argentinian Spanish, began to respond with, "Amazing, thank you so much for the opportunity, we’re so grateful…" before his friend quickly cut him off.

"No, no. This is America, Jorge," he said, in English. "Here we respond with 'OK.'"

My father thought he was joking. As the conversation in two languages continued, however, his friend continued to interrupt to remind him, "Only English in America, Jorge, please. OK?"

As the story goes, my dad, being the proud, stubborn man that he was, ripped off his blood-stained apron and meat covered gloves. He slammed them to the ground and proclaimed in proud Argentinian Spanish, "You can take your ‘OK’ and your ‘English’ and shove it up your ——."

That was the moment my father, 51 years ago, decided he would never learn English.

And he didn't. It was a decision that would cost him dearly later, financially speaking. Meanwhile, I grew up teaching myself English by watching "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons."

I was raised in Boston, where there were two rules under my father's roof: (1) No English was to ever be spoken in his house and (2) No baseball.

These rules stemmed less from anti-American sentiment and were rather more about pride, or, as it's called in Argentinian Spanish, orgullo. With the history books laden with stories of bloody colonialism, Argentina, like most European-influenced countries, was a product of swift global eminent domain. Argentinians hold on to their identity whenever they found themselves outside of their native land.

I spent the '80s and '90s listening to Red Sox games on my headphones under the covers. With my dad's two staunch anti-American rules in place, it wasn't going to be an option for me to naturalize (the process of admitting a foreigner to the citizenship of a country) before or after I turned 18.

My father, older brother, and me in Boston circa 1990. Photo via Foglia Archives.

Orgullo — that Argentinian sense of pride — is why my father didn't want anyone literally planting the flag of another nation inside his consulate-like abode.

Mike, Jorge Jr., and me (I'm the dashing one in the blue polo) in San Juan circa 1981. Photo via Foglia Archives.

As I grew older, those rules weighed heavy on my sense of belonging.

I watched jealously as my peers ran to the polls to cast their votes for Al Gore in 2000. After the complications in that election and even more so when, in 2004, John Kerry ran under the slogan "Let America Be America Again," I was so excited for Boston (and the Red Sox) and for America, and I desperately wanted to get involved in the good fight.

I chomped at the bit for anything I could do to get involved with politics on campus, far from my father's eyes. I helped plan debate parties and organized events with the chair of political communication. But I still couldn't participate in American democracy the same way my peers could. Every four years, on that November Tuesday following the first Monday, I was the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Every year when I'd see my old man, his response to even the slightest mention of my becoming an American citizen was a clear "no."

When my father died in 2012, things changed. In all my grief, I also had a decision to make.

My dad passed on March 26, 2012. On March 27, I realized the only thing keeping me from becoming an American wasn't orgullo but stubbornness. I made the decision to become a citizen of the United States of America and to take part in the civic duty, honor, and responsibility of voting.

Two years later, I stood with 5,000 other people and pledged allegiance to this nation.

He never missed a fútbol game. Photo (circa 1986) via Foglia Archives.

I am proud of my heritage, but I am also proud of this country that has given me everything I have ever worked for. I am so especially proud to, finally, be an American during such an important election.

I know that wherever my father may be, he's looking at me with orgullo at the fact I was stubborn enough to do what I thought was necessary and to make the decision that was right for me. He may not agree, but I know he's proud.

One of our last pictures together. Dad and all his kids circa 2009. Photo via Foglia Archives.

We all may not agree as to what's best for America. Are parts of our nation broken? Sure. Yes, there is work to be done. But the fact that we can sit here and have this kind of dialogue is tantamount to the same ideals the founding fathers had 240 years ago. To me, as a new American citizen, it is a thing of beauty.

To be an American means continuing to melt together, to create one of the greatest democracies the world has ever seen. It's easy to turn to negativity, to point out everything wrong, and to despise what may await us on the other side of election day. But even if the result is our "doomsday" scenario, we'll survive because that's what Americans do. After every election, the history books tell the story of Americans moving forward together, making a great country even greater. Just like my dad felt orgullo to Argentina, I felt orgullo — that sense of pride in my country — for America.

We should all be proud of what we have here. Whatever the outcome on Election Day, we'll survive. We'll unify. We'll work hard. We'll come together and beat stubbornness with one simple thing: Orgullo Americano.

My father in New York City circa 1972. Photo via Foglia Archives.

True

Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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