In Gritty Jersey City, Eager Immigrants Stream to the Polls

JERSEY CITY, NJ – Suman Raghunathan, FI2W consultant

At a fire house in Jersey City, Arab, Filipino, and South Asian voters voted in a steady stream as the early evening fog rolled in.

Several immigrants, longtime residents and US citizens for decades, felt compelled by this election to cast their first votes ever.

A couple, originally from India, voted today for the first time. The husband, in the U.S. for 27 years and a U.S. citizen since 1987, said he “felt good” after voting. He noted he had been following the presidential election and that “policies were very important to determine my choice for President.” He voted for Obama, and cited three specific issues that determined his vote: the economy (“Obama’s policies are good”), the candidates’ approaches (“his thoughts are high”), and foreign policy (“he’s better because he wants to end the war”).

Another longtime U.S. citizen originally from Egypt and a U.S. resident for over two decades wandered over to the polling site hoping to vote. Unfortunately, he had not registered in time to vote this year. He cited civil liberties as key to his reasons for voting.  “Democrats are better – they stand for more freedom,” he said.  He was so enthusiastic about Sen. Barack Obama that he was already hoping he would get re-elected. He also cited Sen. Obama’s foreign policy plans as central to why he preferred the junior Senator from Illinois. In particular, he supported Sen. Obama’s decision to diplomatically engage with Iran: “You have to sit down and talk.” He also approved of Sen. Obama’s promises to pull US troops out of Iraq.

Two immigrant voters noted their labor unions had urged them to vote for Sen. Barack Obama. One of them, a 26-year old elementary school teacher originally from Egypt who has been living in the U.S. for 10 years, sighed, “Once you press the lever, you don’t know what [the candidates] will do… I have to be responsible to give my answers to God.”

Reynaldo Manito, a 61-year old voter originally from the Philippines, proudly declared he “always voted straight Democrat”. Manito, a waiter at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, and a member of the Local 6 hotel and restaurant workers said he came to the US in 1980 and had been voting since 1995. In between drags on his cigarette, he described the difference between the major parties as follows,  “Democrats are for the poor, and Republicans are for the rich.”

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