AMERICANS vote on Tuesday to choose a President. The race is very close between incumbent Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, and Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger. The swing states with significant numbers of Guyanese would determine the winner.
Kamala Harris, a South Asian or Indian or Black Caribbean, Jamaican American is a ‘dougla’ as we say in Guyana. Kamala’s father is a mixed Jamaican and her mother is a Tamil or Madrassi as we say in Guyana. Kamala is bolstering Biden’s chance in the election among Black and Indian (Indo-Caribbean) voters. The Biden/Kamala team has collected tens of millions of dollars from Indian Americans. Trump has also collected millions of dollars from Indian Americans. Under Trump, US-India relations have been strengthened. The Trump administration also saved democracy in Guyana in 2020.
Guyanese are concentrated in a few states and have clusters in a few others. In a party stronghold such as New York or New Jersey or Maryland or Illinois, all very Democratic, the Guyanese vote is inconsequential because Biden would triumph. But in the swing states or battleground states, the Guyanese votes matter and both parties are focusing their energy on those states.
The swing states with clusters of Guyanese are Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas, Michigan, Georgia, Ohio, and Florida (with tens of thousands of Guyanese and Trinis, next in concentration of Caribbean people after NY and NJ). (There is also a handful of Guyanese in Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, and Louisiana, but not established communities as in the others where there are Guyanese or West Indian shops and mandirs. Delaware is a Democratic bastion while the other three are Republican). Texas, Georgia, and Ohio have traditionally been Republican for the last few decades, while Minnesota and Michigan have been Democratic. But they became marginal in the last election and polls show them as toss-ups in 2020.
Guyanese began settling in the U.S. after 1965 when the country was opened to Indian immigrants. As a result of their race, Indians were largely prohibited from becoming citizens of the U.S. until passage of the 1965 Act. Thousands of professionals were welcomed from India and the Caribbean and almost instantly given landed status (green card) because of their education background or skills.
The earliest Guyanese immigrants, mostly Indians, came as students and professionals before acquiring residency and citizenship. Afro female domestics and nurses also came to the U.S. in the late 1960s and early 1970s and acquired green cards through employment sponsorship. The early migrants settled in NY and later branched out to other states. Indians settled in Manhattan and the Bronx and then gravitated towards Queens and established Little Guyana in Richmond Hill. Afros settled in Brooklyn and some Afro- Guyanese students settled in the Washington DC area. Some Afro Guyanese from NY settled in Florida and Georgia.
Indo-Guyanese students were drawn to colleges in Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois (Chicago area) and settled down in those states after acquiring green cards and citizenship. Indo Guyanese moved to Texas from NY and some were also drawn to the state as university students and oilfield workers. Some Indo-Guyanese studied in Pennsylvania and decided to settle there while many more moved there from NY because land and houses are much cheaper in Pennsylvania, where a few are into animal husbandry and farming. Some Indo-Guyanese also are settled in Georgia). Through chain migration of families, the Guyanese presence in those states grew.
The Guyanese populations in the swing states are very small except for Florida. But the several thousands of them in each battleground state are critical for victory for either candidate. And both candidates are campaigning in the swing states to woo voters. Both candidates need to win the swing states for a path to the White House.
Based on conversations with Guyanese, they are divided in their support. Almost every Afro-Guyanese is voting Democratic. Indo-Guyanese are divided, with a quarter going for Trump and the rest for Biden. Indo-Guyanese feel the Republicans will protect democracy in Guyana, while the Afros feel the Democrats are better for a return of PNC to government. It was under Democratic administrations that the PNC was installed in office in 1964 and 2015.
Opinion polls say Biden is ahead in all the swing states. It is the view of this writer that given past trends, Trump is likely to win Georgia and Texas and possibly Ohio (neck and neck). Biden is expected to win the others that would give him a landslide victory over Trump. Ohio and Wisconsin (with just a Guyanese although several hundreds studied there) are expected to be close, but with a Biden advantage. Were Biden to win Texas, Georgia, and Arizona, all traditionally Republican, it would be a blow out. One cannot discount a Trump victory through voter suppression or last-minute changing of minds of those leaning towards Biden as happened in 2016 with Hillary Clinton.
Guyanese are urged to come out and vote on Tuesday if they have not already done so in mail-in ballots or early voting. Sunday is the last day for early voting and Monday the last day for mail-in ballots in most states.
Vishnu Bisram (Pol scientist)