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87-year-old immigrant and first-time U.S. voter: 'I love this country very much'

November 2, 2010 |  6:20 pm

Reginalda Rodriguez filled out her ballot with painstaking care, using her practice booklet as a guide -- no on Prop. 19, Jerry Brown for governor, and on through every measure and candidate.

It was the first time the 87-year-old great-grandmother of 11 had voted in the United States. She lived the first 65 years of her life in El Salvador. In 1989, she came to live with her son in Los Angeles to escape the civil war in her country. She worked as a nanny until the age of 83.

In May 2008, she finally became a U.S. citizen. When Rodriguez arrived at the Baldwin Hills Recreation Center polling place Tuesday afternoon, the workers were unable to find her name on the rolls.

Undiscouraged, she cast her provisional ballot. On the way out, she hugged the workers or shook their hands. "I feel very satisfied, because I have so much esteem for this country," Rodriguez said in Spanish. "I love this country very much."

There was no single proposition or race that drew her. Rodriguez said she simply wanted to vote in the country where she is now a citizen.

Rodriguez is the type of voter who immigrant rights group have been courting in a year when many Latinos were expected to stay home, disappointed by the failure of the Obama administration to push comprehensive immigration reform.

Since late August, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles has dispersed 253 volunteers throughout the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys and in pockets of Los Angeles to woo immigrant and first-time voters.

CHIRLA spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera said the election team spoke to nearly 7,000 households while canvassing the city and even more on the phone. Volunteers hit the streets again early Tuesday and remained out all day in a last-ditch effort push as many registered voters as possible to the polls.

--Abby Sewell