In Michigan, election is reason to celebrate

Expatriate Iraqi Karim Khudeir Althalimi, 83, cheers before he places his ballot in the box in Southgate, Mich., on Saturday. Althalimi's son was killed during the Saddam Hussein regime.Jeff Kowalsky / EPA via Sipa Press

Thousands of Iraqi-Americans journeyed across Metro Detroit this weekend to cast their votes in the Iraqi Transitional Election.

By many measures the turnout was poor — only 10 percent of those considered eligible cast ballots. But, there are other ways to measure the success of this expatriate vote.  Call it the joy factor: measured by the applause, singing, dancing, and the choked-up words used to describe the process.

Perhaps you had to be a refugee of Saddam Hussein’s brutality to fully appreciate what happened inside the five U.S. polling places for Iraqi-Americans that were open for votes these past three days.

Sylvana Manzo said she had been overwhelmed with emotion since she left her house Saturday to journey to the Southgate Michigan polling site. 

Her aunt in Baghdad lives across the street from an Iraqi poll site, but was terrified to cross a single road and vote. Sylvana and her family cast votes for her and others who couldn’t find a voice on this day. 

“I voted on behalf of my cousins, my aunts, my uncles and also most importantly I voted on behalf of the sacrifices the American soldiers have made," she said.

Her brother Faithy Toma almost didn’t vote.  He registered last week, but then felt his effort might be presumptuous since he had not lived in Iraq for so long.  But his American-born wife prodded him to the polling site. 

He said she told him to “think of all the people who were risking their lives to vote (in Iraq)” and then said, “Here you are in the safety and comfort of America and you are not going to vote on their behalf?” 

With that, Faithy said, “it all came home” and so he came to vote on his lunch hour from an auto assembly plant.

'Rivers of blood for this day'
Bashir Shallal, a retired high school teacher never doubted he would vote or that he would applaud all of the other voters he would watch as an election observer. 

He said the Iraqi people have “given rivers of blood for this day.” 

Shallal turned to look over his shoulder at a spontaneous dance of chanting Iraqi-Americans and said, “You see, it is a celebration of happiness.”

Rafell Rassid fled Iraq when she was 19-years-old.  Now 25, she was overwhelmed with emotion to vote for her homeland. 

“I’m so proud, so excited, so happy, it is a big joy for me," Rassid said.

She could say no more for more than a few moments, time to compose herself over what she had just done.

She had committed an act of democracy and was full of joy.

No matter that more Iraqi-Americans had not joined her. Everyone who did had their own way to celebrate — with tears, with thanks to Allah mouthed toward the heavens, and with words of joy that were hard to come by.

In Southgate Michigan the results are already in: This election was something to celebrate.