In the wake of the unprecedented times of 2020, it is easy to fall into despair. Yet, now more than ever, is a time for action. As local pediatricians, we urge young adults from immigrant families to vote in the upcoming election and to take this opportunity to spark change.
We had a recent experience that highlights the strength of young adult voices. One of our patients was a very sick teenager who had a devastating brain cancer that was not responding to treatment. One morning, we got a request to go to his room because his 20-year-old older brother had just arrived. He said, “I know my mother is here, but even when using an interpreter, she only went to the 6th grade. She does not understand a lot of what is happening.” He requested that we continue to talk to his mother and actively explain concepts at her level. He requested that we call him during his work breaks so that he could try to help his mother understand too. He also asked for parking coupons, food stipends, and gas vouchers to make sure his family was provided for during this difficult time.
We admired his determination and deeply sympathized with him. This older brother was his family’s voice. He was their way of navigating this completely foreign and intimidating world. For many children from immigrant families, especially families where the adults did not have the opportunity to obtain formal education, it’s common practice to interpret for various family members at clinics, hospitals, and anywhere else it is needed. Beyond interpreting, the myriad responsibilities of an immigrant child often extend to representing and advocating. These children did not sign up for these untold roles, but they graciously and skillfully carry them out on a daily basis with resilience. Their reach of influence is often so much wider than we see.
In California, we have the highest number of immigrants in our country. Approximately 27 percent of the population was born in another country and 50 percent of children have at least one immigrant parent. Additionally, immigrants in California contribute tremendously to the state’s economy and labor force, pay tens of billions in taxes, and serve as essential workers during the pandemic. Though nearly 52 percent of the immigrant population has obtained U.S. citizenship, the remaining numbers have not and will not have a voice in this pivotal election. It is vital that the best interests of immigrant families are represented.
Unfortunately, history has shown us that young immigrant adults vote at lower rates than their peers. While one in four 18-24 year olds in 2014 were born abroad or to immigrant parents, these adolescents were the least likely to vote. Only one third of first generation immigrant adolescents register to vote and second generation youth are seven percent less likely to register to vote than non-immigrants.
We hope this history will reverse itself in the 2020 election. In exercising their right to vote, young adults of immigrant families, who so intimately know their families’ strengths and challenges, have a vital role in representing the views of those who cannot vote. Additionally, research has shown that voting itself is tied to better mental and physical health outcomes, and voting encourages young adults to advocate for themselves in other areas such as healthcare and education. With the single act of voting, young immigrant adults can improve their own health and speak up for the health of their communities. Your voice is invaluable, use it this November!