For most African immigrants in the United States, the right to vote is precious.
Ivo Tasong, a Cameroonian American who immigrated to the U.S. in 1986, said voting is something he will never take for granted.
“Being fortunate to migrate and come and live in the United States, that civic duty cannot be taken for granted, because we know what our families are going through back home,” Tasong told VOA. “We have a war right now that we’ve lost many family members and friends. And the government's response has not been adequate to call for peaceful, peaceful settlement to the crisis. So here, if we are also complacent, then is it a lose-lose situation.”
Tasong is one of an estimated 2.4 million foreign-born Africans in the United States, most of whom are eligible to vote, according to U.S. census figures. He owns a technology business in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is the chairperson of the U.S.-Cameroon Democracy Network, a new organization advocating for issues that impact Cameroonian Americans.
Although he is supporting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, he has been determined to register people of all political beliefs to vote in Tuesday's U.S. election.
“What we're trying to do is let each and every community member understand that we cannot stay on the fringes and not get involved, because those issues that are important to mainstream Americans are also very important to us as a community,” he said. “Go and vote early. If it rains, please take an umbrella. Set in. Stick it out."
Tasong’s passion is not unique.
A new report by the Pew Research Center found that Black voters of all backgrounds are among the most motivated in the 2020 election. Pew found that Black immigrants are a growing voting bloc. Between 2000 and 2018, the number of immigrants in the Black electorate rose from 800,000 to 2.3 million.
“We did see a fivefold increase of the total population coming from those who are Black and immigrants,” said Neil Ruiz, associate director of global migration and demography research at Pew.
Pew found that voters with African heritage are poised to continue playing a large role, since they are younger than the electorate at large.
“Four in 10 Black eligible voters are millennials to Generation Zers,” Ruiz told VOA. “So, in all nine battleground states, for instance, millennials — those who are currently ages 24 to 39 in 2020 — make up a slight plurality of all Black eligible voters.”
Not a monolith
Although polls have found that the large majority of Black voters back Biden in the presidential election, the African diaspora is not a monolithic voting group. There are no definitive surveys as to its political leanings.
In the Somali American community in Minneapolis, some say they are voting Republican. Sahra Yassin Farah said she has grown disillusioned after years of voting for Democrats. She wants to see more emphasis on programs for at-risk youth and economic growth.
“When I saw the kids, they don't have programs. They don't have any community centers that can help the kids," she told VOA’s Somali Service. "We have a lot of problems with kids with drugs. We have a lot of kids who went to prison. They were born during those 20 years that I lived here. And when I looked at the policies, (with) Democrats, it's just going to stay the same.”
Others in the African diaspora stress the need to think local first, regardless of party ties.
Olanike “Nike” Adebayo grew up in Chicago and has roots in Nigeria through her father. She lives in Miami-Dade County, Florida, where she practices family law and criminal defense. She ran for a circuit court judge seat in 2018 and again in August. She lost both times but continues to push for participating in the future.
While the presidential and congressional votes are garnering much of the national attention, Adebayo said a host of other offices also matter.
“November is very important for all of us, but I'm always stressing that local elections matter," she said. "They affect your everyday life. They’re your local officials. We have constitutional issues and county referendums, and all those are important. The people who (impact) your everyday life are your councilwoman, your councilman, your school board, judges. Those are your primaries, and that's when it's really important to vote.”
Abdulaziz Osman contributed to this report.