A Daughter of Refugees Restores Her Parents' Faith in Voting

Student and voting rights advocate Gurleen Kaur Mander. (Courtesy Gurleen Kaur Mander)

The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which enshrined women’s constitutional right to vote in the United States, was celebrated on Aug. 18, 2020. So we’re asking politically engaged women in our community to share their personal voting stories.

Today: Gurleen Kaur Mander, student and voting rights advocate.

Many parents, teachers and other caregivers take it upon themselves to teach children about the importance of voting. Gurleen Kaur Mander tells a different story.

Mander is from a small town near Fresno. When she's not studying for her undergraduate degree, the 21-year-old student said she enjoys playing soccer and watching TV.

She's also a big fan of politics.

Mander is majoring in political science. She served as a poll worker in her teens. As a volunteer for the League of Women Voters, she does a lot of voter registration and education on campus (and more recently, because of COVID-19 restrictions, in the virtual space).

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"I explain to friends what the electoral college system is, what voting is and how the polling system works, because it can be a bit confusing if you're not really familiar with the system and the structure of voting," Mander said.

And in her household, she’s the one who’s been schooling her parents about the power of the vote.

"They were just like, 'Oh, we don't want to vote,' " Mander said. "But I would be like, 'No, you should vote. You are a citizen of the United States. Your taxpayer money goes into the system. We should have a say in how things work.' "

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When her parents came to the U.S. from India as refugees in the early 1990s, they found jobs as farmworkers. Mander said her mom and dad came of age during the previous decade when India was in a state of political turmoil.

The assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 led to days of violence against Sikh people in the capital Delhi and elsewhere. Thousands were killed or displaced.

Mander said events like the Sikh Massacre destroyed her parents’ belief in the democratic process.

She grew up hearing about how corruption in India was so widespread, voting was at worst suppressed, and at best, a pointless exercise.

So she said it took some persuasion to change her parents’ attitudes. But she finally got them on board.

"Now they're telling my brother, like, 'Oh, you should vote, too.' They're telling their brothers and sisters, 'You guys should vote, too,' " Mander said.

"They actually took a really positive approach to it because they realize that we should really be a part of this system."

Now share your story with us

Use the box below to tell us about the first time you voted. We'd love to potentially feature your experience on KQED: