Ray Duckler: For new Americans deciding between Trump and Clinton, words matter

  • Dilu Chhetri Rai, 42, fills out a new voter registration form at Ward 9 in Concord on Election Day. Chhetri Rai, who is from Bhutan, became a United States citizen in June. “I’m proud to be a new American,” she said. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Dilu Chhetri Rai, 42, picks up her ballots as a first-time voter at Ward 9 in Concord on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Chhetri Rai, who is from Bhutan, became a United States citizen in June. “I’m proud to a new American,” she said. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Jean Claude Mfataneza, who was born in Congo and has lived in the United States for 4 years, talks with an election official and learns he is ineligible to vote because he has not completed the naturalization process at Ward 9 in Concord on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Sultana Nasrin (left) and her husband Dr. Monawar Hosain talk about the two major party candidates of President outside the Ward 9 polling place in Concord on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor columnist
Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Blame media bias or blame Donald Trump’s words.

That’s your call.

One thing is certain, however: Immigrants and refugees, not to mention African Americans, were disturbed by what the GOP candidate had to say as his presidential campaign rolled into high gear.

By now, as you start your day, I’m assuming you know how that voting segment influenced the outcome of perhaps the zaniest political race of all time.

Voters from Ward 9 cast their votes at Havenwood Heritage Heights, located in an area, the Heights, where many new Americans build lives along busy Loudon Road.

That’s where I went Tuesday, and that’s where voters from places like Bhutan and Bangladesh, proud of their American citizenship, told me that Trump had simply gone too far to earn their support.

Start with Dr. Monawar Hosain, who came to the United States from Bangladesh 16 years ago. He works for the Department of Health and Human Services, in health statistics and data management. He got his master’s degree in Australia, his doctorate in Houston and his opinion of Trump from a campaign trail littered with perceived insults.

“I feel very hard. I was down when he talked about a section of U.S. citizens that isn’t good,” Hosain told me outside the Havenwood entrance, on a sparkling, cloudless day. “(Trump) doesn’t like diversity, doesn’t like the minorities who come from outside the U.S.A., like coming from Mexico, Muslims, so he passed some bad comments about minority groups.”

The things Trump said at his rallies, several of which were held here in the Granite State, changed the rules of politics.

Suddenly, banning a certain religion from entering the country made sense to many. Suddenly, labeling members from a certain nationality as criminals and walling them out was a good idea to many. Suddenly, getting caught on tape boasting about unwanted physical attention toward women was acceptable to overlook.

Suddenly, Trump was the candidate of a major political party, and people not born here shook their heads and wondered why. Islam is the largest religion in Bangladesh, prompting Hosain, who voted for Clinton, to say: “When he talks about something bad about the Muslims, obviously I felt bad. He wants to ban Muslims across the board, and that’s not good.”

Hosain’s wife of 22 years, Sultana Nasrin, a substitute teacher, was far more reserved on the subject than her husband. But after a bit of nervous laughter, she said, “He talks about the minority people, and I think that’s not very nice.”

Rup Timsina, who came here from Bhutan nine years ago, is a bicultural school liaison. He was coy when asked whom he voted for, but, thanks to my sharp journalistic instincts, I was able to figure it out.

His take on Clinton: “She’s a very experienced person to run the office. So I think she’s mature.”

Trump? “He also did okay, but he tries to blame the people around him, and he uses some nasty words. He insulted not particularly me, but he insulted people from other countries.”

I asked Timsina if he’d worry if Trump won. He, too, gave me a nervous laugh before saying: “Yes, about the country’s image. Since America is one of the powerful and strongest countries in the world and everyone respects that, but if the leader of this nation who is not respectful, then we may lose the respect that we have.”

I’ve heard that from voters in recent months, that during their travels people in other countries have asked them, essentially, why?

Why Donald Trump?

Sharma, a Bhutanese refugee, asked that I not use his first name. He also declined to reveal whom he voted for. Again, though, I figured it out after hearing him say this: “America is a country founded and flourished on immigrants. One candidate says trucks and trucks and trucks of immigrants should be sent home. Equal justice under the law, and this person says these people are rapists and terrorists.”

Any guesses?

Over to Dilu Chhetri Rai of Bhutan, a translator who earned the right to vote as an American citizen five months ago, something she doesn’t take for granted.

“I’m excited,” she told me. “I’m proud to be a new American.”

Holding her choice close to her vest, she said: “I think she answered the questions, she’s experienced. I kind of feel he’s a little immature.”

Not everyone was as fortunate as the people already mentioned. Jean Claude Mfataneza of the Democratic Republic of the Congo spoke limited English. He proudly showed me a picture ID, which showed his age, 28, and how long he’d been in the United States, four years.

He walked inside Havenwood, expecting to cast his vote, ready to be heard, a new piece to our Democratic puzzle. He sat down to fill out paperwork, and handed his ID to poll worker Lenny O’Keefe.

“Sign here to say the fact that you are an American citizen,” O’Keefe said.

“Soon,” Mfataneza said.

“Soon?” O’Keefe responded.


Mfataneza, it turned out, had not taken the citizenship test, meaning he was not eligible to vote.

“So sorry to say you can’t vote today,” O’Keefe said.

“Next time,” said poll worker Kristina Schultz, seated next to O’Keefe. “The next election will be just as important as this one.”

Voter Brandon Boewe, sitting next to Mfataneza, fist pumped him, a gesture of encouragement for an African native trying to find his way in the United States.

“I hope he can vote next time,” Boewe told me.

Meanwhile, Elaine McConnell, a Havenwood resident, gently played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” on the piano upstairs, a Civil War-era song about patriotism during a fractured time in our history.

“This is a democracy,” Sharma told me back outside. “Anyone can be the candidate. It’s up to the people to make a choice.”

Refugees, immigrants and minorities made theirs Tuesday.

I’ll let you decide why.