November 6th will be a special day for me. It is, of course, Election Day. The next President of the United States will be chosen and hundreds of local, state, and federal legislative positions will be filled. Yet none of this is what will make me immensely proud to be an American on that day. I am not a partisan voter; I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans and will not pledge undying allegiance to any one party or politician. I am not an ideologue nor will my vote be based solely on dogma.
November 6th is significant to me because of history. As a student of history, I have taken great interest in the story of my community. By some miracle of fate, I was born an American. After thousands of years rooted down in the Middle East, our families fled from the land of Esther and Cyrus and trekked over seas and continents; they discarded memories and wealth, endured emotional hardship and physical pain, and settled from Santa Monica to Manhattan, where they picked up freedom and liberty.
This story has been recounted countless times in the years since. My generation will attest to having heard this tale told every time their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles remember one more detail, one more lost friend, one more childhood playground or neighborhood market. The significance and importance of this communal story is not lost upon us. At the Shabbat dinner table, despite being more focused on the tadig my grandma cooked for us than the stories she’d tell of her journey, the influence of those stories never left my side.
True, hundreds of immigrant communities have left their homes for America, many of them leaving far more dire circumstances. Nobody forgets the photos of Holocaust refugees packed onto boats, longing for a glimpse of Lady Liberty. But those photos have driven our desire to pay tribute and do right by our parents and grandparents. As first generation Americans, we realize the gravity of our choices as the children of refugees: to take part and contribute to the strengthening of a greater union, or to dismiss the sacrifices of our immigrant families and take our education, health, and freedom to assemble for granted.
If my parents had stayed in Iran, under the grasp of religious intolerance, I would not be free to don a tallit or wrap tefillin without fear. If our family had stayed in Iran, whose women are not treated as its greatest asset, my sister would not be free to earn a decent education and employment. If our community had stayed in Iran, whose president denies the existence of gay people in his country, and where sexual orientation is not protected, our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters would not be free to live. If we had remained in Iran, where school children are indoctrinated every morning with chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” we would not be free to proudly sing the Star Spangled Banner and HaTikva.
So no, I’m not going to the polls on November 6th because I feel a particularly strong affinity for President Obama or Governor Romney. I’m not going to the polls due to a personal inclination for low taxes or free healthcare. I registered to vote the day I turned eighteen and will vote in every election until my dying day because I know our involvement in this society matters. I understand that when our families settled in the United States and earned material wealth, education and success, the most valuable addition to their lives did not come in the form of a diploma or shiny status symbol, and did not have to be earned. It was endowed upon them by our creator and protected by this nation’s most sacred documents and revered doctrines. I will vote on November 6th simply because I am granted the freedom to do so.
Michael Yadegaran serves as 30 YEARS AFTER's Vice President of Civic and Governmental Affairs