Boratha Tan votes for those without a voice. Photo provided by Boratha Tan
Boratha Tan votes for those without a voice.

Asylum seekers. Immigrants. People who are incarcerated. Those without voter identification. Detroit resident Boratha Tan votes for them all.

DETROIT—It was his freshman year of college when he first felt that he didn’t have a voice.

“I remember many peers having trouble pronouncing my name, as well as not knowing where my parents came from,” he said of his Cambodian roots. “Yes, I was frustrated. Yes, I often gave up trying to explain it to people who actually had no interest in my culture.”

 But all of that changed in sophomore year when he took a course where the professor knew about Cambodia culture. 

“In fact, he tried to speak some Khmer (a native language) to me, which was the most surprising and thoughtful thing someone could do,” Tan said. “This gave me a renewed pride in my culture, and I never again remained silent about who I am.”

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The Voice of the People

Remaining silent also has no place in this election where the stakes are high. Tan is making his vote this November count—even for those who he symbolically votes for. As the child of immigrants, Tan understands how important it is to be the “voice of immigrants and asylum seekers.” 

“Many families come to this country because of the allure of the American dream,” Tan said, adding that upon arrival on these shores, one can finally work for a better life, while having this freedom to express themselves without fear of getting harmed. “Of course, the current climate is breeding anti-immigration sentiment.”

Tan cares about whose right to vote is impinged by the voter ID requirements. 

“Many people have lost the right to vote because of voter ID laws,” he said. Because of the South and its complex racial history, many Black individuals never had proof of citizenship, such as birth certificates. 

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For Those Who Have No Voice

While Michigan does not require ID to vote, Tan has spent quite a bit of time in Alabama on two separate Civil Rights pilgrimages, where disenfranchisement plays a big role in the election experience.

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 “I spent time in a small community called Mosses. By meeting and talking to residents, I realized that many people here would not be able to vote anymore,” he said, adding that, “surprisingly,” residents of Mosses were full of hope and optimism. “Voting is a right granted to us for the very fact that we are citizens in the USA.”

Tan also thinks of others who can’t vote at the polls. 

“I think about those who are on death row, those with and without violent crimes, those who are falsely convicted, the old couple from Alabama that could not get an ID because they lost their birth certificates in a fire, the list of those goes on,” Tan said. “I also vote for those unable to vote because they do not have IDs. For many people who do not drive or own any vehicles, especially in the South, they tend to not have state issued IDs. This becomes more apparent with senior citizens; without IDs, they are shut out from the polls.”

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