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African Immigrants Among Obama's Enthusiastic Backers

African immigrants who live here and back Obama include Mike Endale, left, and Teddy Fikre, right, with youngsters, left to right, Ye-Amlak Zegeye, Leyu Negussie and Yared Zegeye. In the background are Yemiserach Endale, left, and Mistella Mekonnen.
African immigrants who live here and back Obama include Mike Endale, left, and Teddy Fikre, right, with youngsters, left to right, Ye-Amlak Zegeye, Leyu Negussie and Yared Zegeye. In the background are Yemiserach Endale, left, and Mistella Mekonnen. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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The Obama campaign embraced the support, with a spokeswoman saying it reflects the candidate's "unique ability to connect with Americans from all backgrounds" and shows "why this presidential campaign has become a real force for change."

Although the enthusiastic political activism by African immigrants is groundbreaking, it is difficult for many Americans to take seriously.

There are not many Somalis, Ethiopians, Nigerians and other African immigrants in the United States -- about 1.2 million, only 3.4 percent of all immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute -- and they stand little chance of influencing a presidential election.

They are concentrated in a few metropolitan areas, primarily in Washington and New York, with scatterings in Atlanta, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. About one in 10 African-born immigrants live in the District, according to the city's Office on African Affairs. Nichols, of the African Services Committee, said half a million African-born immigrants live in the New York area.

But what African immigrants lack in numbers, they make up for somewhat in education and income. A 2003 report by the State University of New York at Albany found that African immigrants in the United States have a higher level of education than all other groups, including white and Asian Americans, staying in school an average of 14.5 years. They have a median household income that is higher than that of black Americans, West Indians and Hispanics.

Endale said that in the District, Ethiopians for Obama will not try to influence the national race between Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Instead, the group will target Ethiopian households in the Northern Virginia suburbs.

"There's a possibility of getting 10,000 Ethiopians in Virginia," Endale said. "That could be a game-changer."

Talking with friends at Caribou Coffee, Yusuf Aden said support for Obama in the community "is 100 percent. You can't even measure. The Somali community, the East African community, the Kenyan community. Obama makes us stronger."

But across the table, Abukar Fidow was not buying it. "I don't support anybody because of the color of his skin or where he's from," he said. "I don't like his ideology, and I don't think he can win." Speaking of Clinton, Fidow said: "The lady was my choice. Now she's gone. A black man can't win."

Silence followed Fidow's words, along with cold stares from his friends. Eyow spoke first, saying that the few Somalis who think like Fidow are ignorant: "It's not like they don't support him. It's that they believe that a black can't win. But it's not like he's way down, like Ralph Nader. You're not wasting your vote. Wake up."


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