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As a citizen by choice, I cherish my vote

Sun-Times files

Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 2, 2012 2:07PM

I vividly remember the day I became a citizen of the United States 12 years ago. About a hundred people from all over the world attended the ceremony at the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago. We all took the Oath of Allegiance to our new country.

Afterwards, some of the new citizens gathered with friends and families to take pictures. I had to head back to the newspaper where I worked. But I was so excited that I needed a few minutes to take it all in.

I stopped at a coffee shop near my job to reflect briefly on this huge step in my life. I kept looking at the citizenship certificate while trying to grasp the significance of the moment and what it meant for me and my family.

After 20 minutes or so, I went back to the office, excitedly repeating to myself: “Now I can vote.”

I voted for the first time in the 2000 presidential election. It was a big deal. I consider becoming a citizen, registering to vote and going to the polls on Election Day a tremendous honor and a huge responsibility.

I know our political system is far from perfect. Among other things, I’d like to see the emergence of more political parties and the implementation of campaign-finance reforms that make elections more about ideas and less about raising money — and the influence money can buy.

In this election, my son Daniel will vote for the first time. I am very proud and excited to see him interested in the national political debate.

I am also encouraged by the latest Latino Decisions tracking poll that shows that Latinos are more enthusiastic and more likely to vote than they were 10 weeks ago, when the survey was first conducted. In this new poll, 45 percent of Latino voters say they are more enthusiastic about voting in this coming election than in 2008.

And 87 percent of Latino voters say they are almost certain they will vote on Tuesday. About 12 million Latinos are expected to go to the polls.

President Barack Obama has the support of 73 percent of all Latino registered voters, compared with 21 percent for former Gov. Mitt Romney. In 2008, Obama received 67 percent of the Latino vote compared with 31 percent for John McCain.

Four years ago, I voted for Obama, and I will vote for him this time around. Some of my relatives will most likely vote for Romney. That’s democracy at the family level.

But what I can’t understand is why some eligible voters might not even bother to show up to the polls on Election Day. The Latino Decisions poll taken a few weeks ago showed that some Latino voters think their vote will not count, so they might not vote.

I am here to tell them that their vote might just decide a close election. The stakes are too high to sit this one out.

I know many of those immigrants who became citizens with me on that day 12 years ago came to the United States seeking the American Dream, including the right — and the responsibility — to vote.

On Tuesday, I will take a quick look again at my naturalization certificate before heading to the polls.

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