In 1995, my dad was imprisoned and tortured by Iran’s Islamic regime for advocating Kurdish cultural rights. During six months of solitary confinement, he suffered cruel torture such as flogging, electric shock and the nailing of his left foot. My family feared he might be killed like others arrested for similar acts of protest. Fortunately, my dad was sentenced to eight years of exile in the Ardabil province of northern Iran.

In 1998, my father, fearing for his life, fled from Ardabil to Van, Turkey, where he attained political refugee asylum from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. After rejection by several Western countries, the United States approved my dad’s refugee case. Thus, in August 1999, he arranged for my mother, my siblings and me to join him in Turkey.

To reach my dad in Turkey, we had to be smuggled across the treacherous mountains of the Iran-Turkey border on foot, horses and truck cabins. We moved only at night, by walking in the mountains. My mother, my sister and I mostly walked on foot because we could afford only one horse, and my two little brothers were riding it. We were all afraid we would be captured by Turkish border police, which had become the unfortunate fate of a group of people that had divided from our group to go to a different city after 30 minutes of their departure. Thankfully, after 13 long and exhausting days and nights of trekking across the Turkish-Iranian mountainous border, we safely reunited with my dad.

After eight months in Turkey, my family immigrated to the United States on May 2, 2000, a day I celebrate every year. In the United States, my family still faces great challenges. As a result of the torture, my dad suffers from chronic back pain and headaches, which require regular hospital visits. Since my dad only speaks broken English, I translate and fill out hospital forms for him during his doctor visits. I also have to write the monthly bills, fill out annual housing forms and, most importantly, supervise my siblings’ education. And my family survives on government welfare for food, housing and health care.

After seven anxious years, we got our American citizenship in January 2007. I choose to be an American citizen because of the concepts that constitute America and connect Americans: The self-evidence of individual dignity and liberty that transcend a person’s birthplace, blood ties, race and religion.

This election is my family’s first election in which we will be able to cast a vote for an American presidential candidate. I have not missed a single day of school since my freshman year, but I will miss school on Nov. 4 to go home to vote with my dad and my mom. The beauty of it is that my dad and I may vote for different candidates. Nevertheless, casting our first presidential votes will be a memorable day in my family’s American experience.

The reason why I have shared this story with you is because in America’s recent past and still in many other countries around the world, people have suffered and continue to suffer a fate worse than my dad’s for merely voicing dissent against their government.

In America we now all have the freedom not just to voice dissent but also fundamentally to change our government. So, please, exercise your rights and determine your future by casting your vote on Nov. 4.

Loghman Fattahi is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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