For Aída Hurtado, Voting Is Nothing Short of an ‘Assertion of Your Humanhood’

Feminist scholar and UC Santa Barbara Chicana/o studies professor Aída Hurtado. (Courtesy UC Santa Barbara)

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: Aída Hurtado, UC Santa Barbara professor of Chicana/o Studies

Mail-in ballots have been making a lot of headlines lately as the 2020 presidential election quickly approaches. Advocates argue that giving everyone the chance to vote remotely removes barriers to the ballot box for underserved communities and reduces the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Yet many Californians still enjoy the experience of in-person voting. For Aída Hurtado, it's a particularly emotional ritual.

“I think every time I've voted, I've always cried," said the prominent feminist scholar and UC Santa Barbara professor of Chicana/o studies.

Hurtado feels the combined weight of generations of women, immigrants and people of color who have fought hard for people like her to be able to vote.

“The act of voting is an assertion of your humanhood and of your right to determine your destiny,” Hurtado said. “All those monumental decisions are encapsulated in that little 'x' in this tiny little booth with a crooked little pencil that you put a mark on.”

Hurtado's parents were both farmworkers. She said they came to the U.S. from Mexico because they wanted their kids to have an education.

"My dad worked very long hours during the week," Hurtado said. “But on Sunday, that would be his thing: watching baseball and reading three newspapers.”

Sponsored

Her dad only had a third-grade education. But she said he showed her the importance of being an engaged and informed citizen.

“Knowledge is power,” Hurtado said. “They can take away your house. They can take away your car. But my dad always used to say, ‘What's in your head, nobody can take away from you.’ ”

Hurtado knows the lengths some people in power will go to keep disenfranchised voters away from the ballot box.

She notes the multiple barriers that stand in the way of many immigrants who want to participate in America’s democratic process, from obvious measures like denying citizenship to Dreamers, to more insidious steps like making it difficult for people in certain communities to access the public transportation they need to get to their polling places or by only providing voting materials in English.

Votes For Women

“Those structural impediments are an indication of how powerful the vote is,” Hurtado said. “Otherwise, you wouldn't be taking such extreme measures to exclude people.”

That’s why it’s crucial, she says, for those who can to exercise their right to vote — even if the system is far from perfect.

"It's that hope that little by little you're eroding these barriers — which I think we are — that gives you that sense of sort of triumph,” Hurtado said. “It's a right that you constantly have to be fighting for. When you have it, it does feel precious, whether the outcome is or isn't what you expect.”

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: