Prospective voter to canvasser: “Are you illegal?”

Cesar Hernandez is 42. He has worked as a political organizer for most of his life. And never had he experienced anything like what went down in Littleton on Saturday.

He was among a group of organizers who came from California on behalf of the Community Change Action Fund to turn out voters in Colorado — a key swing state with the eyes of the nation on us. Hernandez was knocking on doors over the weekend trying to prod young folks and minorities who hadn’t yet voted.

At one house, after he had introduced himself to a prospective voter, the middle-age white guy said he wasn’t interested in what Hernandez had to say. This is nothing new for canvassers, who develop particularly thick skins when it comes to rejection.

But then, the guy called after him. “Hey,” he asked. “Are you illegal?”

Hernandez says he was dumbfounded.

“I really didn’t know what to say,” he said.

He moved on, knocking on the next door and the next. Then it occurred him: a frequent traveler, he had his U.S. passport in his backpack. He was tempted to pull it out, turn around and prove his citizenship to the only man who, in his whole life, ever asked. But he stopped himself. Why bother?

“I have nothing to prove just because my skin is brown,” Hernandez said.

“I’ve been doing this work since I was in high school. I feel like what we’re doing in this election, in all elections, is the most important thing an American can do — participating in the electoral process,” he said. “I’ve lived in places like Louisiana and have never, even in the Deep South, experienced anything like the racism I felt that day at that door in Littleton, Colorado.

“And I hope I never experience anything else like it again.”