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African immigrant citizens challenge GOP challengers, celebrate election day in Minneapolis


Wednesday, November 5, 2008
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A translator at the Brian Coyle Center, in Minneapolis, has been
accused of telling voters to cast a ballot for Senator Norm Coleman.

I arrived at this polling station where most of the voters are from
the Somali community from the Riverside/Cedar area around noon, and
immediately noticed clusters of people whispering amongst themselves.

I
recognized Siad Ali, a volunteer for Senator Barack Obama’s campaign.
He was worried that voters were being intimidated by Republican
challengers who had charged into the polling station earlier in the
morning. These Republican challengers were claiming that translators
were telling voters who to cast their ballots for. Ali was confident
that this was not the case.

Initially, according to Ali,
there were three challengers, but only one was there by 1 p.m. He said,
“All that these Somalis want to do is vote, and when they see people
come in like this, they are afraid.”

Nimo Ali, a translator,
explained her job, which she has volunteered for. “I read out
candidates and the party that they are affiliated with,” she said. She
says that some voters only know the presidential candidates names,
while others just know the party that they want to vote for. Her job
then is to point out these names on the ballot.

“One woman
came to me, and asked me to show her where Al Franken’s name [Democrat
candidate for the US Senate]. I did,” she continued. “Next thing I know
she comes back and tells me that someone told her to vote for Norm
Coleman.”

Another witness, who asked not to be named, was
sure that Mahamoud Wardere, a campaigner for Senator Coleman’s office
could have been the interpreter who was telling people to vote for
Coleman. [For additional information on the translator, his employment
by Coleman’s office, and his actions at the polling place, see Witnesses claim Somali polling place translator was telling people to vote for Coleman by Molly Priesmeyer in the Minnesota Independent.]

Wardere, on the hand, denied telling people how to vote, and said, “I only translated, just like the other translators.”

Excited Voters

“Obama
ni mtoto wetu” (Obama is our child)! A group of women voters broke into
song just outside the polling station at the Brian Coyle Center after
casting their votes. They were oblivious to the tussles ensuing
indoors. The three of them sat on a bench and chatted about the
significance of the elections.

Madin Dula, whom I had
interviewed a few weeks ago about her first election, was ecstatic. An
Oromo immigrant who lived in Kenya, Dula still has relatives living in
Northern Kenya. She woke up this morning to a phone call from her
brother, who wanted to know if she had already cast her vote. It was
only 6 a.m. and her polling station was not opened, but she assured her
family that she would be one of the first ones on the lines. She lives
in St. Paul, but was in the Riverside/Cedar area to make sure that all
her friends and extended family made it to the polls. So it was that
she sat with her friends and they were singing.

“Elections
should be a joyous time,” they explained to me. “Even before the
results are out, we should sing and praise the person we are putting in
office.”

“Let me tell you,” Samsam Yusuf said, “this is a
historical moment, for me and for my 12-year-old son who was born in
this country.” Yusuf fled Somalia more than 16 years ago, and, like
Madin, lived in Kenya. She has voted for the Democrats for as long as
she has been in the United States. She says that this year has been
different.

“I am very impressed with the Obama campaign.
They covered everything … healthcare, education, tax breaks and the
war.” Yusuf says that, until this election, she had never seen a
campaign that worked to educate voters.

A few blocks away at
a Starbucks parking lot, a group of East African men chatted about the
elections while sipping on their free coffee. The conversation was
lively, as the men were already imagining a future with Obama as
president. Many of them insisted that his being black was just the
icing on the cake.

Fuad Osman, whose 24-year-old son is a
finance manager in Washington DC, believes that Obama’s financial plan
will work best for working class people like him. Osman, who was born
in Ethiopia and came to the United States 16 years ago, works with
Teamsters Union Local 120.

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About Julia N. Opoti

A former Mshale editor, Julia Nekessa Opoti is now the producer and host of the radio show: Reflections of New Minnesotans on AM950 . She also edits/publishes Kenya Imagine

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