For Chinese children, politics is boring lecture notes in the class. But for children in the U.S., it is an everyday real life experience. Here is an 11 year old Chinese boy's experience of the US presidential election. It is translated from a column I wrote for a Chinese newspaper.
Update at the end - thanks!
My son Kuang-Ye was born in China and is 11 years old now. He came to the US with me when he was 7 years old. Although we are not American citizens, we love America. We love its people, its freedom, and believe it or not, its better education system.
This year is the quadrennial U.S. presidential election year. One day Kuang-Ye and an eighth-grader Jack played ping-pong together in a ping-pong club. During the break, I heard the loud voice of Jack talking to Kuang-Ye about Romney's "stupid" words and actions. But at that time Kuang-Ye was not particularly interested in a political campaign.
On the night of October 3, I was watching the first presidential debate on TV. Kuang-Ye and his good friend, Li Liya were at home with me. As they were playing by the computer, they occasionally took a look at the TV, but not paying much attention. Then came the moment when Romney said to the moderator, "I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I like PBS. I like Big Bird. Actually I like you, too. But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for." "What, PBS? " The two kids who were absorbed in playing suddenly pushed themselves in front of the television, staring at the Romney image on TV. "He is going to stop PBS? How can he do that?" They both got very angry, and started shouting. They had not decided who to support in this election, but now they have - Obama! Mr. Romney just managed to offend every child in this country.
On a weekend afternoon in October, we went by Obama campaign's New York office on Broadway. In the past the people selling Obama buttons and distributing leaflets in front of the office were usually old folks, but today there was a boy just a little older than Kuang-Ye. As we passed by, he called for Kuang-ye, "Hi, do you want to come here and volunteer for the Obama campaign?"
Ever since Kuang-Ye passed his 11th birthday, he has always wanted to do something independently. We discussed what he can do, for example, to help me share some chores, or to do some community volunteer work. Just the other day when we were at the Riverside Park, we saw people distributing leaflets, asking for volunteers to care for the flowers. Kuang-Ye said that he would like to volunteer for that. But I thought that it would be difficult for him, since we did not have any experience or knowledge of taking care of plants.
I told the boy that we were not U.S. citizens. The boy replied, "If you like Obama, you can help him." ( In AO 1987-25, the Federal Election Commission allowed a foreign national student to provide uncompensated volunteer services to a Presidential campaign). Kuang-Ye asked, "Can a child also volunteer? "The boy said, "Although we cannot vote, but we can volunteer." The boy's words tempted Kuang-Ye. He probably was eager to help the Obama campaign, to stop what Romney would do to PBS through his own action. He asked for my advice. I thought that this was a good opportunity for him to make contact with the community and to understand the American political life. So I agreed. Kuang-Ye registered his name and telephone number for the campaign office to call him back.
A week later, the campaign office really called Kuang-ye to help. I accompanied him to the office, also wanting to take a look inside the campaign office myself. When we got in, the office was full of people busy with activities. Some were making calls to supporters for donation, some were posting voter registration reports to the wall, some were recruiting volunteers, some were selling Obama buttons and T-shirts. An old lady in charge of the office assigned Kuang-Ye a job. He was to stand by the door and distribute leaflets to passers-by, and recruit more volunteers, just like the boy we met the other day did. The old lady briefly instructed him on how to do this work. Then Kuang-ye took the material and went to the door to work. He politely but loudly asked everyone who were browsing the Obama buttons, "Would you like to volunteer for the Obama campaign?" At the same time, he handed the materials to people who showed interest. People were very surprised to see a little asian boy volunteering for the Obama campaign. Some took the materials he handed out, and talked to him. I slipped away quietly.
Since then on each weekend, Kuang-ye would go to volunteer for an hour. He worked hard and took initiatives. The old ladies and gentlemen were all very fond of him. They told me that Kuang-Ye was a big help. Once Kuang-Ye told me that he was introduced to the Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer. Mr. Scott shook his hand, and said to him: "You've done a great job. I was also your age when I started to participate in the political campaigns. My job was to paste the campaign ads on to the street light poles." This meeting further motivated Kuang-Ye.
The last night Kuang-Ye worked at the Obama campaign office was the Halloween night. There was another small boy, who also stood by the door, dressed as Obama. Kuang-Ye dressed as a western cowboy. He looked very handsome.
On the election night of November 6, the campaign office was ablaze with lights, crowded, and warm atmosphere. We went there for a little while, and watched the live TV coverage of the vote counting with the people there.
During the night, when the TV announced that Obama had won, Kuang-Ye was already in bed. But he heard the announcement, and shouted the news to me. He was very excited, but soon he fell asleep contently. Next morning on the way to school, he told me that the week before, the school held a mock election, and the result was not far from the actual election result. 250 students of grades 5-8 took part in the mock election. Obama won 242 votes, Romney got only 8 votes. Needless to say, Kuang-Ye voted for Obama.
In the afternoon after coming home from school, he saw that I was reading about the election. He told me of a "New York Times" web page, where the exit poll results were posted. He said that many 7-8 grade students in his school were talking about the election, and then went on this page to get the statistical data about the election. I could not help but reflect, politics touches the lives of everyone, and American children are able to take part in it from an early age. Regardless of their age, it is everyone's responsibility, everyone's concern, on how the country does. No wonder that the United States is the most powerful country in the world.
There are those who say that the Chinese people are of lower quality, that they are not suited for a democratic system, that democracy will lead to chaos. But in fact, democracy is not so complicated. If an 11-year-old can criticize a nation's leaders and decide what he likes and dislikes; if an 11-year-old knows that he can change the outcome by participating in the political process; If an 11-year-old can understand how to vote, how to read statistics, and how to analyze the election, why would it be so hard for adults?
Update: Thanks for all the recs and rec list (although by the time I came back from school it already slipped off). A lot of people thought I am a father. Actually I am a mother - my full name is Helena Wind. I am helenawind on facebook and @ShiningPhoenix2 on twitter.