Iraqi Expatriates making LA Journey to Vote

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(Sacramento, CA)
Sunday, January 23, 2005
(PEOPLE TALKING N4 UNDER) It’s 5:30 Saturday morning in the parking lot of the Assyrian Cultural Center in the Stanislaus County town of Ceres. About 150 Iraqi-Americans stand in the cold pre-dawn air awaiting 14 vans that will take them to the voter registration site at the El Toro Marine Base near Los Angeles. Among them is Nadia Rihan of Modesto. She fled Baghdad with her family over a decade ago and doesn’t hide her enthusiasm about taking part in the election.  N. RIHAN (A7) :15—I’m so much American citizen as I am Iraqi citizen. And I’m proud to say that. I’m really excited since this is the first time I’m voting. It’s just great to have one. I really want to thank America for making this happening.  Her sister Baldees Rihan says she isn’t daunted by the long journey to Los Angeles or the concern that boycotts or violence inside Iraq might mar the election.  B RIHAN (A6)—:06—If we want to change the future of Iraq we have to vote. If I want to make a difference, then I need to make the trip. Also excited about voting is Louis Adam of Modesto. Adam says he hoped a day like this would eventually come to his homeland which he fled 30 years ago after the government confiscated bookstores he owned. His transgression? Selling English language materials.  ADAM (A4) :19—I used to have four book stores. And I used to bring all magazines, Time magazine, Newsweek, Herald Tribune and English papers from England, from Egypt, from Beirut. So they nationalize them. They took them. But some are upset about the distance to the polling station. The El Toro Marine Base is one of only five polling sites in the U-S. Today, it will be a 700 mile round trip for the group just to register. They’ll have to return next weekend to vote. Nargia Peera has just dropped-off a friend who will be making the journey, but she won’t be going herself.  PEERA (A5) :08—Actually I was planning to go but I hurt my back and I can’t. So for me it’s a sad day not going. According to the 2000 U-S Census, about 90-thousand Iraqi-born immigrants live in the United States. It’s not known how many will vote. Sargon Dedesho organized today’s trip for Central Valley Iraqis, Dedesho says he’s found many eligible voters are deciding not to participate because of the distance to the polling station.  DEDASHO (A3) :13—There are a lot of old people, elderly people and it’s going to take seven to eight hours to get there. And they come back and go back again to the El Toro facility next week. Those making the trip feel it’s a worthy sacrifice, despite uncertainty about the outcome of the election. Dedesho says, in all, nearly 300 people will hit the road today as part of his group. Those who aren’t going by van are traveling in privately owned vehicles. (A couple beats of ambient sound) (N4 VANS PULLING OUT FADE AND HOLD) (Sound of van doors mixed into vans moving out?) At about six am the vans are loaded up. Still in darkness, the convoy pulls out of the parking lot, headed for Hwy 99 south. The group won’t return until the wee hours of Sunday morning. Next weekend, they’ll vote -- and will have to make the same long journey all over again. Bob Hensley KXJZ News.