IOWA CAUCUS 2020

Nearly all at multilingual Iowa caucus site in Cedar Rapids pick Bernie Sanders

Caucus instruction read in 8 languages to immigrants and non-English speakers

CEDAR RAPIDS — In eight languages, almost every Iowan at Cedar Rapids’ first multilingual satellite caucus Monday said they want Sen. Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic nominee for president.

Translators opened the caucus at Hoover Elementary School in English, Nepali, Swahili, French, Spanish, Lingala, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda.

Within minutes, nearly all of the 121 people present had gathered in the west corner of the school gym, where Sanders’ campaign signs were taped to the walls.

No other candidates were viable. Unofficially, 107 people picked Sanders, winning him nine delegates at the site.

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“When you look at the constituents who showed up — and who he overwhelmingly resonates with — what do you see?” asked Hala Shetz, 53, an Arab-American professor who lives in Cedar Rapids.

“You see people that look like they came from so many different backgrounds and countries. What would unite so many people from different backgrounds and classes? Somebody who is speaking to what most of them came here for — the American dream.”

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Caucus site organizer Lemi Tilahun — one of four people who tried to caucus for former Vice President Joe Biden — credited the Sanders campaign’s connections to diverse communities for the blowout win.

The satellite caucus in northwest Cedar Rapids was the first specifically designed to serve the city’s growing multilingual and immigrant population.

Hoover Elementary was one of nearly a dozen Democratic caucus sites that offered translation services, according to the Iowa Democratic Party. Six sites held caucuses in Spanish, according to the League of United Latin American Citizens, and one site in Iowa City had an American Sign Language translator.

A large contingency of Bhutanese Americans were led to the Cedar Rapids site by Bhim Magar and Harka Thapa. Both men caucused Monday for the first time — Magar became a U.S. citizen in 2017, and Thapa in 2019.

“I feel like we can use our rights here,” Thapa, 36, said. “It’s the first time in my life that’s meant something.”

Magar, 45, translated the caucus rules in Nepali — a brief translation, he noted, because he knew the Bhutanese community already had their minds made up.

Brenda Ware, a first time caucus participant, moved to Iowa from Chicago almost five years ago but didn’t caucus in 2016. She said she didn’t understand the process and was fighting an illness four years ago — the 56-year-old African American has neuropathy, or nerve damage to most of her body.

She was one of the first people to find a seat in Sanders’ corner.

“I’m glad that he’s standing up for the people,” she said. “He’s not here to get rich off of it. He’s here for the people, and I believe the people should be here for him.”

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Tilahun, who works as Hoover Elementary’s school-community liaison, said about 80 percent of attendees were first-time caucus participants and more than 45 registered to vote for the first time at the site.

“People say Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus is not reflective of what the country is in terms of diversity,” he said. “If anyone was in this gym, they would see that’s not true.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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