I Became a Citizen This Year

Standing outside the electoral registry on Rua Ferreira de Araújo on a Thursday afternoon, I had never felt so powerful. I held the document that legitimized me as an active citizen of my country. My opinion was truly important for the first time. I felt weighted by the responsibility of the electoral title in my  hands.

I had been reluctant to vote this year. Ever since I turned sixteen, whenever people asked me if I was going to register to vote, I would say “no, I’m going to wait until it becomes mandatory at eighteen”. I was not ready to vote. It was a pressure and a decision that I was not prepared to deal with.

No one seemed to understand my decision. The rejection of my electoral right was not caused by political apathy or disinterest. On the contrary, I am someone who feels obliged to inform myself and to partake in political discussions. It was not a case of hopelessness, for I love my country and wish to see it prosper in the future. It seemed inconsistent with my personal beliefs to wait until the next election.

What was unclear to all of the adults in my life was that my true motivation was fear. I was scared to get my title.

Voting comes with a unique responsibility. It is not that I think that my vote will be the determinant factor in an election. If I chose to commit myself to make this decision, I would need to dedicate myself to reading and researching about the candidates and assuming a concrete position. It would require me to reflect deeply about my thoughts and to learn how to keep an open mind.

Choosing a candidate is tough. It requires me to look over proposals and government plans that go beyond what I can understand. It also requires compromise, because the more I research, the more I realize that it would be impossible to find someone that spoke to all of my beliefs.

However, beyond the task of informing myself about the issues facing our country, voting also requires an amount of self-confidence that I did not know I had. Being a teenager in a country that is constantly devaluing our capability to rationally and independently think can be extremely demotivating. I had never had anyone teach me about my rights and duties as a citizen or trust me with political autonomy. Youths are often seen as easily manipulated and indoctrinated.The adults in our lives are reluctant to believe in our ability to think for ourselves. Somewhere along the way of attempting to create my own ideals, I got lost in the belief that my ideas were not as valuable as those of others. I was not ready to stand up to the pressure of disagreeing with people I love.

During the first semester of 2018, my mindset changed. Even though I did not believe that I had the maturity to vote, my country did. I realized how lucky I am. The fight for democratic rights in Brazil was long and faced major setbacks. However, I am a part of one of the first generations to have never lived under a military dictatorship. Furthermore, I am a citizen of a country that gives 16-year-olds the right to a voice. I am a citizen of a country that believes in us on a constitutional level.

This year I became a citizen. This year I gave myself a huge responsibility that I will gladly hold. It makes me proud to think that I am honoring a history of struggle and am representing the future of a country that sometimes feels like it is years behind others.