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She's 'Only Just Begun to Fight' : Although the election results did not go as she wished, first-time voter Celia Viramontes will continue to put her faith in the ballot box

November 20, 1994|Yvette Cabrera

Celia Viramontes is a freshman at Occidental College in Eagle Rock. The 18-year-old Latina voted for the first time in the Nov. 8 elections. Viramontes, from the Eastside, said that although the elections did not go the way she wished, "I will continue to vote. I'm not going to allow one election to discourage me completely. I know some people say 'I'm never going to vote again' because they think they don't make a difference. But I still think it makes a difference, and it is my right. So why not? Why not exercise it?" Viramontes was interviewed by Yvette Cabrera:


This is my first time voting and I understood the importance of the vote. I didn't view Pete Wilson's position in Sacramento as a very positive one and I knew that my role in this particular election was to vote and use that vote positively. That was my way of voicing myself as well as my community.

To be honest, I really didn't care about the politicians. In these elections I was really concerned with the propositions. I felt these initiatives were really going to affect the state of California.

I don't want to say that I was disregarding the politicians, but Proposition 187 was a really central issue, and that's what I focused on. Basically, my community is very much an immigrant community so I came to the realization that politics was not only shaping my life but the life of my community.

Most of my friends are not citizens and don't have their documentation. They told me 'Please vote, since we can't vote.' They wanted me to make use of my privilege to vote.

I looked forward to being able to vote. I remember telling my sister, 'I can't wait to turn 18 so I can vote.' I voted in my neighborhood and I felt empowered and decisive about what I was voting for, but also a bit disoriented with the process.

I have two older brothers and two older sisters who didn't vote in the last elections and I was very bothered by it. They think that their vote won't count, and I've had to encourage them. I think Proposition 187 did it for them--it got them to the polls to vote.

I feel people my age are apathetic about voting. There is a sense of hopelessness, and I think it's an attitude that needs to change. Those of us who feel apathetic need to regain our sense of hope and realize that we have more power in us than we realize.

My friends and I talk a lot about politics, racism and sexism. We talk about everything--social issues and discrimination. There were a lot of conflicts regarding these elections between even my own friends.

There are some of my friends who wanted Proposition 187 to pass, and those of my friends who aren't citizens of course were very opposed to it. I was caught in between my friends who were strongly opposed to it and those who were strongly in favor of it. It caused a lot of conflict between us--two of my friends aren't talking to each other now.

The thing that frustrated me about these elections was the number of Latinos who voted. The percentage of Latinos in the entire state is about 25% but Latinos only made up 8% of the total who voted. It's discouraging to an extent, but it is also like a wake-up call saying that we need to get into the political process and actually vote.

When I heard the results of the elections I almost thought that my vote didn't count at all because everything I voted for lost. I voted against 187, and it passed. I voted against Wilson, and he got reelected. But I know that if I took up the attitude that a vote doesn't count, and if others took up this attitude, then that 8% would be 5% or 4%. So I do realize the importance of a vote.

I felt like there was support from the Latino community in the marches and protests against Proposition 187. I marched to City Hall and I saw a lot of energy. I saw a lot of people committed to the ideals, but I also saw people with ambivalence, with mixed feelings, people unsure of how to react and how to deal with the results. But overall I did see a lot of positive energy.

The results of the elections made me realize how much racism actually surrounds us and how much people are actually willing to use that as a political weapon. I think with the passing of Proposition 187 discrimination has become politically correct. Not that racism didn't exist before, but this just reinforces it.

I think that illegal immigration was being used as a platform in this particular election. I think Pete Wilson was using illegal immigration as a vehicle to gain supporters, and I think he succeeded in doing so. But in the process I think his tactics hurt the immigrant community, scapegoated them and created an image of the community as a cause for the economic ills of this country.

I went home to my neighborhood the day after the elections. I found a lot of gloomy faces and saddened faces. I also saw a lot of disillusionment in the people with the country and the government, and the realization that the American dream is not always fulfilled as it's claimed. But I also saw the will of the people to overcome this, and although others may think that the harm has been done, we've only just begun to fight this.

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