Rima Fakih was born in Lebanon. Representing the state of Michigan, she took the crown at the Miss USA contest on Sunday night.
The crisis in the U.S. auto industry is among the many serious challenges facing Michigan’s economy. People are moving out of Michigan at a higher rate than any state in the nation, and at 8.5 percent Michigan has the highest average annual unemployment rate in the U.S. Despite these trends, business in the state’s Hispanic community is flourishing.
Feet In Two Worlds‘ Martina Guzman reported on Detroit’s thriving Latino businesses in a piece that aired on WDET, Detroit Public Radio.
Guzman compared some Motown neighborhoods where “buildings designed by world famous architects” are “now abandoned” to the city’s Mexicantown where “historic buildings have been renovated. There are ethnic grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants, shops and a bustling main street.”
As the national economic crisis deepens and the state faces the loss of thousands more manufacturing jobs, Metro Detroit’s Latino business community may be a ray of hope on Michigan’s bleak economic landscape.
You can hear Martina’s piece by pressing play or you can visit WDET’s page here.[audio:http://wdet.org/audio/articles/HispanicBiz.mp3]
DETROIT – Martina Guzman, FI2W reporter
John McDowell sat in his lawn chair at the Kemeny voting center in Detroit. He passed out Obama literature and smiled at the young people who came to vote.
“I’m one of the ones who can really appreciate voting,” McDowell said.
McDowell is originally from Louisiana but moved to Detroit in the 1960’s. He said he voted for the first time in 1955, but that was a humiliating experience.
“I was asked what party I belonged to and I told them Democrat,” he said. “They asked me to spell Democrat… I got one letter wrong, so they refused to register me.”
McDowell went home and looked up the word in the dictionary, swearing to never get it wrong again. He went back to the polling place, spelled the word correctly and registered to vote.
“I was lucky,” he said. “Some black people were asked to recite the Constitution.”
As McDowell told the story, 18-year-old Eric Ford stood by and listened. Ford was voting for the first time and said he was excited to make a stand and vote for change. He said that at his age he’s already worried about his future. “I look out here now and it’s scary,” he said.
Ford politely shook McDowell’s hand, then went inside to vote.
Lopez campaigns for Obama in Detroit (Photo: Freep.com|Detroit Free Press)
It was George Lopez doing the talking, but this time the punch line wasn’t funny.
“You cannot be happy with the last eight years,” the comedian said. “Do you like waking up everyday to banks closing?”
Lopez was speaking at a voter registration rally aimed at Detroit’s Hispanic community, held on Sept. 20, to discuss the important role Latinos will play in this year’s presidential election.
Polls in Michigan show Senators Barack Obama and John McCain in a statistical dead heat, with the Democrat enjoying a slight edge. The state is home to more than 400,000 Latinos, and Latinos make up only 4 percent of the electorate. But in an election that seems too close to call, they could decide which candidate wins Michigan’s 17 electoral votes.
Latino voters are the focus of much attention in the battleground states of New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida — but strategists are beginning to see that smaller burgeoning Hispanic communities in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio could have a hand in deciding the winner.
Latinos drove two and three hours to get a glimpse of the famous comedian and listen to what he had to say about his support for Obama.
The sharp outcry last week after two Muslim women wearing headscarves were told they couldn’t appear behind Senator Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Detroit, has raised questions about the credibility and motivations of Obama’s post-racial, multi-ethnic message and appeal.
On June 18th two Muslim women separately reported that they were told they could not appear on stage behind Obama because they had headscarves on. Obama later called the women to personally apologize, and his campaign released a statement saying that the actions by the Obama volunteers who barred the women was unacceptable and went against the spirit of his campaign.
The incident was picked up by the national press, some calling the move hypocrisy, while others pointed out that the campaign has had to tread a tightrope between combating rumors and perceptions that Obama is a Muslim and at the same time not appearing to denigrate Muslims or Islam with his disavowals.
The reaction in the Arab press has been louder, harsher and more impassioned. A scathing column by Ray Hanania posted on the Arab Writers Group went so far as to allege a tacit agreement between the press and the Obama campaign to report the incident without a sense of outrage. Hanania called the incident an act of “racism.” He claimed that if the same thing had happened at a McCain event there would have been a loud outcry in the media.
To underscore that sentiment a political cartoon released to Arab newspapers by Hanania and David Kish shows Obama telling a crowd that there are many differences between him and Sen. John McCain. The following panel shows a volunteer telling two women in headscarves that they can’t be seen. The cartoon ends with a thought bubble over Obama’s head that reads: “Then again maybe not so many.”
While reporting on the incident has focused on the motivations and tactics of the campaign, it has neglected to delve into whether Obama’s candidacy may be raising the level of interest and participation in the political process by Muslims and Arab-Americans.
While there’s no concrete evidence to suggest that Obama’s candidacy has galvanized Arab or Muslim voters, there are attempts within the community to increase political participation. The Arab American Institute has launched “Our Voice. Our Vote. Yalla Vote ’08.” to bring issues related to the Arab-American community to the forefront in 2008.
“Like all Americans, we’re concerned about the economy and education, about health care and home prices. But there are a host of other issues that are impacting our community more deeply and more personally than any others: issues like civil liberties, immigration, and our country’s foreign policies,” Dr. James Zogby, of the Arab American Institute said in a statement.
The group is planning to put organizers on the ground in key states, and plans to monitor political races on all levels to help advance an agenda that reflects Arab-American concerns.
It’s easy to see how Muslim voters would be attracted to a candidate with family members who are Muslim, whose father comes from Kenya, and who spent his early years in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. But is the appeal of Obama’s personal story outweighed by his campaign’s efforts to downplay his Muslim roots? For Arab and Muslim voters incidents like the one in Detroit last week could end up linking Obama to what some in the Muslim community allege is a long-standing bias by American politicians and the mainstream media against Muslims and Arabs in this country.
Michigan will be a battleground in 2008, and has one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations in the country. In a tight election the Arab vote could be a significant factor.