Kenyans in U.S. Involved in Obama Campaign

JERSEY CITY – It looks like a typical storefront in a poor and black dominated part of any large city in the US. It is in a tough neighbourhood of Jersey City–and Jersey City is tough by American standards–and flanked by bars, liquor stores and other enterprises probably dealing in more disreputable activities.

Not very far away young men in hoods, sagging jeans and expensive sneakers lounge around, while older men with little better to do sip from bottles concealed in brown paper bags. 

But the particular address on 215 Martin Luther King Boulevard seems an oasis of peace in a rough and tough neighbourhood. Entering the Community Services Centre of the Beth-El Seventh Day Adventist Church on last Saturday afternoon, the Nation team was in for a cultural shock.

In a flash we were transported from one of the toughest US black inner-city neighbourhoods to a corner of Kenya.

All the people in the room were Kenyan and the language one heard was not just Swahili, but Kisii. Even when English was spoken, it did not come with the American drawl but distinctive Kisii accent. Even the food was traditional fare, with some twists because of the ingredient available.Elders of the Church were just finishing of their lunch after a service and were preparing another meeting to plan their activities.

Upstairs, the younger people were holding their own meeting, and also discussing church and community matters. It was only at the younger peoples meeting that one heard various American accents ranging from the black inner city to the white mid west drawl and the cultivated Ivy League. But every so often as the conversation got animated some vernacular, or at least the accent, would break into the conversation.

Jersey City has one of the largest concentrations of Kenyan’s in the US, but what makes it most peculiar is that a large majority of them are from Kisii, turning some neighbourhoods into virtual Kisii enclaves. The particular church is in fact a branch of the Maxwell SDA Church of Nairobi’s Milimani Road.

When the Nation visited, excitement was in the air because many of those at the meeting are also actively involved at the community and local level in the Barack Obama’s campaign for the US presidency.

They shared their motivation:

RICHARD MABURI

I’m President of the Kenyan-Americans Community Association Inc in New Jersey. It’s a good year for Kenyan-Americans because we have Barack Obama running for president. He’s making history as the first African-America making a serious bid for election and he’ll make history as the first one to be elected.

He is Kenyan blood, but it is policies that motivate young people to register as voters and to join his campaign for change.

I have been working as volunteer with the campaign, making telephone calls, sending e-mails and raising funds.

There is a Kenyan-American community of at least 5,000 in New Jersey and they are all excited by Obama’s message for change. Many have given donations ranging from $5 to $500.

SHEM ONDITI

I have been voting in the US for many years. Now I am busy canvassing and helping mobilise voters for the Obama campaign. Presently I am concentrating not in the section of Jersey City where I reside, but in the neighbouring Essex County "where are many Republicans we need to win over.

I support Barack Obama because this is the chance for change. Obama is offering much more for change than McCain, and his ideas are more relevant to ordinary people. I don’t support Obama just because of the Kenyan connection or because I am a Kenyan-American. This is not a Kenyan issue; it an issue for all we Americans.

ZACHARY MOITUI

I am a high school teacher in New Jersey. I am involved in the campaign because Barack Obama is the best hope not just for African Americans but for all Americans.

This country has gone wrong in the wrong direction. The eonomy is tanking, people are losing their homes and job losses are increasing. As a Kenyan-American it is my moral duty to work for the change America needs.

We have in our organisation of school workers Union in Jersey City of 1,800 many of whom are volunteering for the Obama campaign.

On voting day, November 4, I will wake up early and go cast my vote at 6.30am. Luckily the Board of Education has given us the day of, so I will then be helping transport young people to make sure they vote. The Nation (Nairobi)