The African community in Minnesota continues to grow. With this comes the responsibility of voting. According to the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are about 15,000 African immigrants in Minnesota that are US citizens.
Hundreds of people, mostly Somalis made their way to the Brian Coyle Community Center in Minneapolis. Muna Abu, a community volunteer ushered voters as they came in, and answered varied questions. Abu, a Somali immigrant living in Minneapolis, says immigrant voters face unique challenges. For Somalis, especially the elderly community, there is a language barrier.
Abu spent the weeks before November 7th, 2006 door knocking and voter registration. Her biggest challenge was convincing Somali immigrants that they could vote, and that their vote would make a difference. According to Abu the Brian Coyle Center was the main polling station for most Somali voters since a lot of Somalis live in the Cedar-Riverside area. An estimated 2,000 people voted at this center.
Mohamed Jama, who has lived in Minneapolis for about seventeen years, has voted since getting his citizenship twelve years ago. This year was of particular importance to Jama, a native of Kenya. When Jama first heard Keith Ellison speak he was glad to hear a fresh voice that reached out to immigrants such as him. Keith Ellison, Congressman-elect for the fifth district has appealed to not only immigrants in St. Paul, and Minneapolis, but also the larger community as was evident in the results of the midterm elections. The issues that Jama voted on were healthcare, tax cuts and education.
When Ellison reached out to the Somali community during his campaign, he attracted a large following. Jama contends that the continued growth of the Somali population in the cities will make them a strong-hold in elections to come with more politicians addressing their needs.
Both Jama and Abu worked hand in hand with members of the community educating them on the specific issues that they would vote. Even though they had their preferred candidates, neither endorsed particular candidates since they felt it was more important to educate the community on voter issues.
On election night at the Republican Party headquarters, Sadiq Abdirahi, a supporter of Mark Kennedy talked to me about his issues. “Mark Kennedy impressed me since he has been involved with the African immigrant community– the Somalis, the Ogaden, Oromo and Ethiopians.”
This reporter later caught up with Jama who was elated at Ellison’s victory. Jama, a Muslim said “It’s about time the Koran had a place in the US Congress. In the Nairobi parliament, before sessions begin prayers in Islam, Christianity and traditional languages. America, the most diverse nation in the world should have similar encompassment of its people.”
Over at the Keith Ellison celebration party, Hodan Aden of the Puntland Women’s group was attending her first election night event. Next to her was retired Hennepin County judge, LaJune Lange who would only say she was happy with the expected results. Ellison was leading all through the night as results trickled in and there seemed little doubt as to the outcome. Jamal Hashi who runs Safari Express Deli at the new Global Market in Minneapolis said Mr. Ellison’s deadpanned on Mr. Ellison’s win “this signifies freedom and we can all be one", adding that it was a particularly motivating day for him considering his 86year old mother voted for the first time.
The African immigrant community, especially Somalis, is credited with ensuring Keith Ellison’s victory. He won 56% of the vote surviving one of the nastiest negative campaigns in the state. He became the first nonwhite person from Minnesota to be elected to Congress and also becomes the first ever Muslim to serve in the US Congress.
Local Twin Cities attorney, Fred Adiyia, originally from Ghana was also at the Keith Ellison celebration headquarters. He acknowledged the critical role the African immigrant community continues to play in elections “especially close ones”.
A win by a favored candidate serves as a tonic to energize the African immigrant electorate even more with Mr. Hussein Samatar calling the election of Keith Ellison as “historic and momentous”. Speaking to Mshale at the Ellison party headquarters, he summarized the feelings of most of those at the celebration “I can’t even find the words to express my feelings”.
Tom Gitaa contributed to this report.
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.