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Voices Behind the Vote - Part 6: Family of Three

Sarah Gustavus

Brianne Bigej has been really busy the past few years. She just finished law school at the University of New Mexico. Her partner, Eric Tomala is an academic advisor at UNM. He started a doctoral program in the Sociology department this fall. After work and school, Brianne and Eric try to squeeze in some time for fixing up a house they bought in Albuquerque in 2009.

BRIANNE: with all home projects, you have to have time and money…three years out will still have little bits and pieces left…laughing….

ERIC: …but it’s fun, I think it’s part of owning a house and struggling but at the same time seeing the results

They’ve put in new floors, wood laminate to hold down the cost, and are currently working on new counters in the kitchen.

They’ll get to things around the house, but education is their main investment.

Brianne’s daughter, 10 year old Kaia Nunley attends a bilingual Spanish-English school. Kaia she says she’s picked up new vocabulary during her mom’s time in law school, which she put to use in a sign on her door.

           KAIA: it says anyone who enters without permission will be prosecuted…

            REPORTER: you need some privacy?

            KAIA: Yes…laughing

BRIANNE: I think she put that up when she was having a rough evening. I have yet to be prosecuted for entering her room…

The whole family is following this year’s political races. But Brianne, a registered Democrat, is the only one who will cast a vote.

Eric immigrated to the US from Ecuador about 8 years ago.  He’s a permanent resident and is not eligible to vote but he says the election matters…both for his life here and in his home country. Eric supports Obama and the current president of Ecuador, a progressive politician named Rafael Correa.

Both Eric and Brianne say that immigration policy is a clear difference between American presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barak Obama.

The issue of comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t been a big issue in the 2012 campaign. Both the couple says President Obama seems more supportive of the reforms they’d like to see, but things aren’t perfect.

  BRIANNE: he’s also deported more than any other president

            ERIC: but there was a previous push for that, in the previous administration

            BRIANNE: Bush didn’t have a huge stance on immigration

            ERIC: I don’t know, I think he used Latinos to get votes, that’s what I think

            BRIANNE: Bush?

ERIC: yeah, he spoke a little Spanish, he convinced people, but he used the Latino vote, I think

They say one contentious political issue that may be hurting Republicans is the DREAM Act.

Congress has considered, but not passed, the DREAM Act, which would give young people a chance to apply for legal protection if they’ve been living in the country without papers. President Obama issued an executive order earlier this summer that offers protection for some young immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children.

Eric says he hopes Obama would push for more reforms during a second term in office.

ERIC: I know a lot of people, a lot of my students at UNM that will benefit from the DREAM Act. I think it will be really important, you know. I think they will follow a similar path, similar to the one I actually have, going for more education, more credentials. I think we need more of that

Another thing that Eric and Brianne are watching is how politicians talk about programs that provide a safety net for people who need it.

Brianne was a young mom. She had Kaia in her senior year of high school, but she started college right away. Federal programs like food stamps, subsidized housing and Medicaid helped make that possible.

   BRIANNE: I worked, I had two jobs and I was a full time student and a single mom but I          still needed some help. I had about 200-300 dollars a month in food stamps. Some of my family members didn’t think it was a good thing. But I explained it and was firm in my ways that these programs are here for people who need it. I am going to college, I’m trying to make a better future (:27)

Brianne and Eric are definitely on a path toward success and financial stability.

They’re encouraging Kaia to pursue HER educational dreams, but they want to make sure that’s available to everyone. 

Brianne says she’ll confidently cast a ballot for President Obama this year. The family will watch together what happens if Obama is elected to a second  term in office. 

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