Fabiola Santiago

The story of a birth — and a missed historic vote

Columnist Fabiola Santiago with newborn grandson, Devereaux, in 2008.
Columnist Fabiola Santiago with newborn grandson, Devereaux, in 2008.

Days before President Barack Obama’s historic election in 2008, my first grandson was born in a city far from Miami.

I remember that my daughter called, said she wasn’t feeling well. Without thinking twice I left town, but not before driving by the Miami Lakes Library to vote early. The line, however, swung around the firehouse next door, and farther than I could see.

The mother vs. the voter battle didn’t stand a chance. I needed to get on the road. I fretted all six hours of the drive, reassuring myself that I would return to vote. This was the election of a lifetime — and all the more meaningful with this birth.

Like the man who would become our first black president, my grandson was the son of a white mother and a black father. He was the grandson and great-grandson of Cuban refugees. He was the grandson of an African-American Army sergeant and the great-grandson of an American who had brought his Japanese bride and son, my daughter’s father, to the United States after the Korean War.

I welcomed Devereaux into the world with the certainty that he represented a new, post-racial America. Obama’s election would confirm what I already knew about the changing demographics of this country. When I first cradled him in my arms, I whispered, my heart so full I could barely utter the words: “Soy tu abuelita. Welcome to the world, mi niño. I’ll love and protect you forever.”

They were more than mere Mama Bear words. They carried the weight of all I had experienced as a journalist, an observer of this country’s racial and ethnic conflicts. I worried that he would live away from the cocoon of multicultural, multiracial Miami.

I would protect him with my vote for Obama. Who do we vote for, if not for our loved ones’ future?

For me, electing the inspiring senator from Chicago had meaning beyond philosophical affinity on issues and what every election cycle represents to people like me who weren’t born into the right to vote, but acquired the privilege by way of citizenship. Obama’s election represented the hope that our baby boy would be born into an inclusive society and would grow up to be a confident multiracial young man having had the positive role model of a president he could relate to and admire.

Only I was never able to return to Miami to vote.

It was a difficult birth, earlier than expected, emergency surgery required, too much bleeding on the operating table. My daughter needed more than a week’s help. I wanted to be nowhere else but there. “I’m only one vote,” I kept telling myself, pushing away thoughts of the close Bush-Gore election and Florida’s role.

And so, I missed voting for President Obama the first time around. Shame on me.

On election night, I watched results trickling in with my son-in-law, a computer whiz still busy at his home station. Exhausted from caring for my daughter and grandson, I fell asleep at some point with Obama clearly winning.

When he turned off the TV, I woke up with a start, and my son-in-law, who has a macabre sense of humor, told me Obama had lost the election. I didn’t believe him. He showed me an election map on his computer: Most of the country had turned red.

I yelled an expletive. I was so upset. But he fessed up. He had made up the chart as a joke.

I probably deserved to live those moments of extreme guilt and disappointment.

My editor had warned me about the crowds, advised me to go early. But I seemed to always be on deadline. Ever the journalist who wants to experience the event, I hadn’t even thought to ask for an absentee ballot.

Never again.

This time around, my absentee ballot came in the mail Wednesday night — and I voted.

I didn’t have to hold my nose, although I did sleep on key local votes. Voting is, after all, the way we either reward or punish those who are supposed to represent us — and elect more-promising candidates. I’ll now track my ballot online to make sure it makes it to the Miami Dade Elections Department. But I already feel the satisfaction of voting in an election where every Florida vote counts. I would say I could die now — except that I have more history to witness.

Once again, I’m in the same position as in 2008 — and with more angst in the age of Zika.

A granddaughter will be born too close to election time and in another city. I have reasons to vote that transcend the usual. If there has ever been an election in which we have to vote — for our daughters and granddaughters — this is the one.

Like Obama’s, this too, has the promise of being a historic presidential election.

And I can’t wait to hold in my arms Devereaux’s little sister.

Soy tu abuelita. Welcome to the world, mi niña. I’ll love you and protect you forever,” I’ll say.

And maybe one day I might even call her Madam President.