This Year, I’m Voting for Grandma

My grandmother, Saifa Begum filling out her absentee ballot in 2016

With this 2020 election finally coming to a close and record numbers of early voting turnout, you’re probably in the same boat as me receiving a record number of texts, phone calls, and mailers telling me to go vote.

A number of the texts I’m getting are asking for Safia — my grandmother. I guess I must have put my number somewhere with her name as a form of contact.

This is the first year she won’t be voting, because she passed away this June.

We all vote for a reason. It’s part of our civic duty, it’s the way to make change, maybe for others it’s to let things stay the same.

My grandmother has been voting in just about every election since she became a U.S. citizen. She was always excited when election season came around. On Election Day my mom would help her fill out her ballot and was always filled with glee when she would finally submit it.

My grandmother was an active news consumer reading and listening to news in English and Urdu. Time Magazine, and BBC News were simple for her to understand but she had no problem getting what the folks at Pakistan’s Dunya News or Samaa TV had to say. She would know all about the political candidates and their platforms.

I still remember right to this day when she had her chair right in front of the TV watching the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate, yes that one that no one really watches, between Vice President Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. But my grandmother just had to stay informed, that was her thing. I asked her what was going on and she went on to explain it to me more clearly than any news analyst did. Despite hearing these candidates speaking high level English, she was able to summarize to me in Urdu what “Bidden” (what she called Joe Biden) and Paul Ryan were respectively arguing for. In fact, she found it her responsibility, nay, her duty to let all of us know what was going on.

My grandmother came to this country in 1983 and she became a citizen a few years later. She moved after living for several years in London, but before that had lived in Pakistan. Born in British India under colonial rule, and raised in the British colonies of East Africa, my grandmother came to America from experiences and countries where she and her family couldn’t always necessarily vote due to the circumstances.

I learned so much about how important voting is as well as being an informed and active citizen more from her than anyone else, including my parents. I guess they didn’t need to overload me with that guidance, because she was doing it through her example so much.

My grandmother would do her own version of phone banking by calling up everyone she knew in her little phone book and asking them if they were going to vote and if they were eligible.

After the 2016 presidential election results, my grandmother was devastated. She often continued to worry and watch what was happening, being sure to tell us along the way. But she also prayed a lot for this country she had called home for over three decades.

I wonder what she would have done today if she was alive and well. Maybe she would have called up her contacts in her little phone book to vote for her candidate of choice. Maybe we would have our in-house debate conversations in Urdu.

But I know she would be determined to vote and ensure all of us in her house did the same. This woman born in a time of colonialism, who came of age during the Indian Partition, became a citizen of a land where she voted for the first Black president of the United States of America.

She would have called all her kids living in England and made sure they prayed for a good outcome. But she would have prayed most of all for absolute justice and for peace, because as much as she loved America, she also loved her faith.

My grandmother was a loyal American because she believed in her faith so much which meant respecting your country. To be a good American and a good Muslim was one and the same. And she showed me what it meant to be a good Muslim citizen- staying informed, asking questions, praying for your country, and encouraging others to carry out their civic duty.

My grandmother’s good friend who happens to live close by voted on the first day the local government center was open for early voting. And she was extremely proud to cast her vote. And I know that my grandmother would be too. So while I will miss seeing my grandmother gleefully filling out her ballot, her example lives on in others, including me. Her smile, prayers, and dedication will always remain with me for every election to come.

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