Desiline Victor never in her 102 years saw herself as a hero.
But her story, a North Miami-Dade woman who stood in line for three hours to try to vote during the 2012 presidential election, captured the attention of many, including the president of the United States.
“We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor,” said President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address last month.
Since then, the centenarian who loves evangelical music and who sits down every morning to a bowl of chicken Ramen noodle soup, has become a cause célèbre for voters’ rights. She has been the subject of thousands of tweets and political blog posts, and prompted a skeptical mention on Fox News Radio.
“What’s the big deal?” asked Fox’s Martha MacCallum, discussing Victor on the Kilmeade & Frie nds radio show. “This is such a non-issue. Ridiculous.”
To Victor, who cast her first vote at age 97 in the 2008 presidential election after becoming a naturalized citizen in 2005, voting is a small but sacred act. A native of Haiti, Victor had been denied the right to cast a ballot until 1957, when Haitian women were finally allowed to vote.
But political violence and unrest that often erupted during Haitian elections kept her away from the voting booth until she moved to South Florida and became a citizen.
“I did what I had to do to vote for my president,” said Victor in her native Creole. “I didn’t think all of this would happen.”
“All of this” includes many accolades:
• U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson , D-Miami, gave her a congressional proclamation. “As an immigrant, former farm worker and respected elder, Miss Victor embodies what makes our country great,” Wilson said in a statement.
• Miami-Dade County commissioners declared Feb. 13 “Desiline Victor Day.”
• State Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, named a voting-rights bill after her: Desiline’s Free and Fair Democracy Act.
• The city of North Miami, where Victor stood in line for hours to vote at the North Miami Public Library, is renaming part of the library for her and will induct her into the North Miami Hall of Fame.
Victor is not accustomed to the attention.
The pink home she shares with her godson, Mathieu Pierre-Louis, and his family, is cozy and modest. Framed portraits of Victor and her family are clustered on a living room wall, sharing space with the congressional proclamation.
On warm days, Victor ventures out to her small garden of herbs and pigeon peas, a testament to her decades of farming in Haiti.
“I am a farmer, it’s in my blood,” said Victor, who lived in Haiti until she moved to the United States in 1989.
Dressed in her favorite sky blue robe with lace and vintage buttons, in between spoonfuls of soup, she said, “I feel joyful. To see that at 102 years old I have arrived, I would have never thought this.”
Born Dec. 15, 1910, in a farming community in Gonaives, a city in northern Haiti, Victor is pensive when she reflects on her homeland.
“I never voted in Haiti — it wasn’t safe. In this country, I have the right to vote. In Haiti, I did not.”
Jean Robert-Lafortune, president of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, said Victor is inspirational.