It was Ximena Chafloque’s first day at Cornell University. She had just driven in from Bradenton on Monday, Aug. 17. She was sitting at her empty desk, suitcases still packed, walls bare, forbidden to leave the room for 14 days, a requirement of the college and the state of New York for people coming from Covid-19 hot spots like Florida. A large pink shopping bag, dropped off at her dorm room door a little earlier in the day, held her lunch and dinner. Ximena, 18, would be dining out of a bag like this for two weeks. And yet she couldn’t contain her enthusiasm that she had voted for the first time in her life before leaving Bradenton—or suppress the significance of the moment that her vote as a female, and as the child of immigrants, was marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
“It felt crazy because I always went to the polls with my mom,” she says. “I always thought it was cool. You get to vote for what you want. But turning 18 and marking a ballot after researching everything I needed to, I felt excitement going through me. I know it’s just a piece of paper, but it’s my voice, my future.”
The struggle for a better future is part of Ximena’s upbringing. Her parents won a diversity visa lottery spot to emigrate from Lima, Peru, to the U.S. in 2004 when she was 2 years old. Her father was a businessman who worked in the field of workplace compliance and her mother was a nurse. Both had to leave their professions, their possessions and their families when they moved. Her mother is now an assistant teacher and her father works in a warehouse. “It’s a big difference from what they were doing there to here,” she says. “They knew the sacrifices would be worth it to give me a better education. I’m living their dream.”
Ximena graduated this spring from the I.B. program at Southeast High School in Bradenton, where she was active in high school speech and debate. She’s also a dedicated volunteer with UnidosNow’s Mi Voto, Me Futoro campaign. “It’s a new [voter participation] campaign run by all females, Latinx girls,” she says. “With the whole pandemic we changed to completely online. We’ve been creating PSA videos, social media countdowns, and we created a pledge that ‘I’ll vote.’ We’re really tapping into social media.”
The issues facing her generation are huge, she says. The environment, racial and economic equality, and immigration are top of mind, and Ximena senses a readiness among her peers to be heard. “Our generation is unique and passionate about what we believe in,” she says. “We are advocating for the changes we want to see made on a big scale and to have the representation we want to see.”
Ximena is fascinated with U.S. labor history—in fact, she plans to study industrial relations at Cornell before she applies to law school—and she knew about women’s contributions to the workforce and their fight for equality. “Before we didn’t have a voice as women,” she says. “Our ancestors fought for this and now that we have it, we need to use it.” The vote, she adds, “is about freedom, the power of women.”
Ximena made sure to mail in her ballot before she drove to New York. “A lot of people don’t think one vote counts, but I do,” she says.