Carlos Garcia is an IATSE 834 Rigger. He waited 21 years to finally gain the full American citizenship, and the right to vote. We interviewed him to find out more about his perspective as one of America’s newest voters.
Q: After waiting twenty-one years, what does this moment mean to you?
A: First, thanks to all the IATSE members for their support. Everyone has been great! It’s been a journey, twenty-one years in the making. It has been very hard and difficult, some people don’t understand how hard it is to become a legal resident and then a U.S. citizen.
Throughout the years, I was faced with deportation because of the current immigrant policies and the current administration made it harder for immigrants like myself. I was scrutinized by the immigration officer because of who I was, my background, integrity and moral character. Moral character is very important because if you lie or forget anything, that can be grounds of denial for citizenship.
Q: How has your experience been being an immigrant in the union?
A: Being an immigrant, you belong to a small immigrant community and it was like this for sixteen years of my life. So when I became involved with Local 834 in Atlanta, Georgia it was a brotherhood and sisterhood that I had never experienced before. Their embrace towards me was an awesome feeling.
When you come into the IATSE family it’s beautiful because you finally belong to a family and something bigger than yourself. Throughout this entire process IATSE has been great to me.
Q: Has being a part of IATSE had any impact on why you never gave up on taking the Pledge of Allegiance to becoming a U.S. Citizen?
A: When you come to this country being an immigrant, you have no rights, especially labor rights. Immigrants don’t get benefits and at the most you get a fifteen-minute lunch, I was denied these labor rights for sixteen years. But, when you become a union member you see someone fighting for you, your rights, benefits to make sure you become a better person.
Witnessing my Sisters and Brothers stepping up because someone is trying to abuse those labor rights is an awesome feeling. Unions and the IATSE family are so important because they encourage people like myself or those born in the U.S. to vote for what is right for us and vote for the candidate who sympathizes with unions. Unions are the strong mantle of this country. So, it has made a huge impact, to have my union by my side.
Q: What are some of the issues you are voting for or against?
A: I can’t vote for somebody who encourages violence against minorities like myself, black and brown and the current administration encourages that.
I want unions to continue to get stronger, not weaker. So, I’m voting against someone who would get rid of unions. Also, I have a lot of friends from the LGBTQ community and their marriages need to be protected under the law.
Q: Why did you choose to vote on Election Day instead of early voting?
A: I voted early. The truth is because I am a first-time voter and I became a naturalized citizen just a few months ago, I was prepared to encounter some issues. I live in Georgia and it’s known for voter suppression. I wanted to vote early in case if there were any issues, I would have enough time to fix the issue and still vote on Election Day or earlier. So, I voted early to ensure my vote was counted.
Q: For those U.S. citizens who don’t exercise their right to vote, what advice would you share with them?
A: If you are born in America, I want them to know that there were a lot of people who fought and died so they could have the right to vote. For anyone not to exercise that right, is disrespectful to the people who fought and suffered for you to have the privilege to vote.
All you have to do is get registered, go to the polls and vote. No Excuses. I waited twenty-one years for this opportunity, I earned it and no one can take that away from me.
A few years ago, I met Amelia Boynton Robinson who fought along with Martin Luther King Jr. She was one of the first few African Americans to fight for women’s rights and the right to vote. To hear her story and learn what she was faced with while protesting in Alabama for our right to vote and then today you have people complaining because they have to wait in line, is unacceptable. If you are black or brown, you need to get your butt out there and vote, period.
Q: For naturalized citizens who are waiting for their moment to be eligible to vote, what are some words of encouragement you would share?
A: Don’t Give Up! Don’t ever give up. Many times people would tell me, including lawyers that there was nothing they could do for me and that I would likely get deported.
I would say, hang in there. I waited twenty-one years and I really thought I was going to get deported. However, my IATSE Family would ask what they can do for me and my family and how to help. The support I got from my Sisters and Brothers in my union was great. So, I would just say, Don’t Give Up!