Democracy, you ok girl?

Celebrating NAHREP familia, cultura, politics, and grassroots action

January 14, 2021

Qué onda mi gente?!

As the daughter of immigrants, I tend to look at “Democracy” through the lens of my parents and my grandparents. I grew up hearing stories of how the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the party that dominated Mexico for 71 years, would go into the “ranchos,” or rural Mexico where my family comes from, and buy people off prior to elections by giving them free washing machines or refrigerators in exchange of votes.

Free and fair elections, or parties and institutions holding each other accountable, was something my family back in Mexico laughed at. There was this sense of resignation and sadness that I heard in their voices when they talked about Mexican Democracy back then.

My parents became U.S. citizens when I was in elementary school. I still remember them playing tapes as they memorized their citizenship questions such as:

Q. What is the rule of law?
A. No one is above the law

But one of the most defining moments for me in my understanding of Democracy was my grandmother “Mama Panchita” memorizing every citizenship question despite not knowing English. I would sit with her for hours, teaching her about American civics. She would listen and ask me questions. I remember going over this question with her:

Q. What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen?
A. (Any of the following):

Defend the Constitution and laws of the United States
Obey the laws of the United States
Be loyal to the United States

She and I talked for a long time about this one and what that meant for her. She was so excited by the idea that is America and what it stood for. She spent time and really internalized what it meant for her to make an oath to be loyal to the United States. We talked about how despite this country being far from perfect in meeting its ideals, there was a mechanism through which to defend and uphold American democratic values. You should have seen her face when she made that oath, she was so proud, so excited. Normally a little hunchback (she was older when she became a citizen), she stood tall that day, raising her right hand fully determined to fulfill that promise. She voted in every election until she died and loved to ask me questions about what was going on in the news.

Naturalized citizens are some of the most patriotic people I have met, perhaps for this reason. Let it be clear, what happened last week was the opposite of that. It was the epitome of betrayal to the most fundamental of democratic principles and it was completely unpatriotic.

Is American Democracy going to be ok?

The violent storming of the U.S. Capitol, and everyone who helped and egged them on with the intent of halting the peaceful transfer of power as Congress looked to ratify the results of the presidential election, is the very definition of betrayal to our county. People who serve in the military, including many Latinos, have died to defend the principles of our Democracy. What happened last week was a betrayal to them and it has to have consequences.

As we continue to process everything we’ve been through in 2020 and particularly what happened last week, as Latinos we have a big role to play in the healing of this country. Latinos are a multiracial, diverse group of people and at NAHREP we embody that diversity. From my Cuban brothers and sisters in Florida, to the Dominicans in Massachusetts to the Mexicans in California and everyone else in between, we are truly reflective of the Latino diaspora. Many of us come from countries with authoritarian pasts or undemocratic regimes. We know how this goes. We know how slowly it happens sometimes until one day Democracy is gone. Many of you might have even lost family members to those regimes. We cannot forget that and we cannot let that happen in this country.

While many people are angry over what happened last week, my mom, my dad, and my mother-in-law are overcome by sadness. There is this notion that this shouldn’t have happened here, and the anger and violence they saw on TV had a triggering effect.

I know that many of you are exhausted. You’re exhausted of politics, of campaigns, of shocking things happening, of scandals in Washington D.C. But I cannot underscore this enough, this is NOT the time to retreat or block it out. This is a defining moment in our history and our Democracy. If we are parents, this is where we lean in and we teach our kids valuable lessons and lead by example. This is the time to engage, to speak up, to pay attention. This is the time to organize and work together to pass the legislations in our policy priorities. Another critical part of the citizenship test is realizing that the most important person in a Democracy is not the President, it is the citizen. And we have a responsibility to defend our Democracy at this moment because it is holding on by a thread.

So if you’re angry, sad, numb, whatever it is that you’re feeling right now, if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, if you voted for Biden or Trump: we are patriotic Latinos and we, along with our children, are the future of this country. Democracy wins when we engage in the democratic process. And, engaging in the democratic process is SO much more than just voting.

Time to stand up proud, like my Mama Panchita, and step up to the moment. It’s up to you what happens next.

About Noerena Limón

Noerena Limón is NAHREP’s Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Industry Relations. Noerena heads the organization’s policy and advocacy efforts on issues ranging from homeownership, housing inventory, credit access and immigration.

Prior to joining NAHREP, Noerena spent six years at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and served as a political appointee under President Obama in the White House Office of Political Affairs.