The Yemeni American News
There are no Yemeni American elected officials in Dearborn, despite the overall growing Arab representation in local politics – namely the City Council and the Board of Education.A closer look at the turnout in the predominantly Yemeni American neighborhood of the Southend shows that in previous elections, the community has not taken the process as seriously as other parts of the city, leaving it on the fringes of Dearborn politics.
But that trend may be changing. In the midterm primaries in August, the two precincts at Salina in the Southend saw the largest number and percentage of voters in the east side of the city.
In past elections, Salina’s voting stations traditionally came at the bottom in terms of turnout. This was true in the August 2016 primaries, when only one out of 47 precincts had a lower turnout than the Southend’s Salina.
The percentage of voters in the Salina precincts went from 14 percent in August 2016 to 35 percent in August 2018 – turnout more than doubled.
So what happened in two years? How did the Yemeni American community become a significant voting bloc in 2018.
Realizing the consequences
Activist say exciting candidates and the increasing realization that voting matter are mobilizing the community.
Maali Luqman, an educator and community activist, said the election of Trump “woke up” minority groups across the country to the reality that lack of civic engagement has real consequences.
“Another factor is that there is an increase in Yemeni American professionals shattering the educational and professional glass ceilings that were previously holding Yemeni Americans back, particularly the low-income early generations of Yemeni Americans,” Luqman said. “With the increase of Dearborn Yemeni-Americans achieving higher education and entering advanced level careers, their knowledge of US social issues and the impact of exercising their rights increases, thus making them better equipped to understand the role of politics and the value of voting.”
The war at home was another motivator for Yemeni Americans to vote, according to Luqman because they know that their political participation can influence US foreign policy.
Certain candidates also played a role.
“Yemeni-Americans felt that the candidates running for office, particularly former Gubernatorial candidate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed whom they felt a religious affinity and immigrant-narrative connection with, needed their support to become the next governor to combat the issues their community faces,” Luqman said.
Adel Mozip, a Yemeni American activist who is vying for a seat on the Dearborn School Board, said the community is starting to realize the consequences of elections.
He added that the candidates’ appeal to the community is also driving the up turnout.
“When there are candidates on the ballot that truly advocate for the issues and reflect their aspirations, the community will come out strong and support these candidates,” Mozip told YAN. “Yemeni Americans are not just voters anymore, but are now running for public offices.”
Mozip said the increased participation gives Yemeni Americans presence in the decision making process.
Mozip, who is seeking to be elected to office himself, said ensuring Yemeni American representation in Dearborn politics is only a matter of time.
“The community is making strides, and surely, there will be representation in public posts once the community votes at higher numbers,” he said.
The Trump factor
Abdulgalil Ali Ahmed, a retired teacher and community activist, said there is a change in the outlook of Yemeni Americans. Early immigrants view their presence of the United States as temporary, but as the community grows, it is realizing the United States is their new home.
Furthermore, Ahmed added, the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies against immigrants is pushing people to become more engaged. Yemen was on all three versions of Trump’s Muslim ban. Yemenis across the US are struggling because of their inability to petition to bring their family members to the United States. The ban has torn families apart. The community can no longer be passive politically, Ahmed said.
Hana Alasry, a graduate student at the University of Detroit Mercy, echoed Ahmed’s comment, saying more Yemeni Americans are feeling the effects of governmental policies.
“Over the past years, Yemenis in the United States see a more transparent impact of policy on their lives with examples like the Muslim travel ban and laws on surveillance,” Alasry said. “There has also been a larger community organizing effort to encourage political engagement with efforts like making voting more accessible through ride-shares and translation services.”
Ahmed said in the past, the community has struggled to put forward candidates of its own because of lack of resources, but as the youth becomes more educated, more qualified Yemeni Americans are seeking public office.
“I think the time has come to keep the momentum going,” Ahmed said.
The local Yemeni community faces unique challenges, including industrial pollution in the Southend.
Alasry said the increased turnout will push politicians to address the issues of Yemeni Americans.
“When politicians know their chances of being voted in or out for the next term rely on the trust of the communities’ they represent,” she said. “The community can have greater influence and hold these policy makers accountable for their actions.”
Alasry urged Yemeni Americans to go beyond voting – to campaign and donate for candidates from the community.
Luqman said Dearborn needs Yemeni American representation in public office.
“We need our brothers and sisters in the Lebanese, Iraqi, Palestinian, Syrian, and neighboring communities within Dearborn to embrace and support the large Yemeni population and its significant contributions to our diverse city,” she said.
Luqman also called for a more cooperative political approach in Dearborn.
“As one unified Dearborn community, we need to collectively make space for adequate representation on our boards, in elected office, and with city stakeholders,” she said. “We need to remain cognizant that representation is meant to reflect the population and not simply a competition for a political seat.”