Samantha Henry, AP, February 14, 2009
In the 17 years since Samuel Nyamwange came to New Jersey from Kenya, he’s gotten used to his family calling about once every six weeks to check in.
That changed after Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, was elected president of the United States.
“Now, they’re calling almost twice a week: ‘Has he (Obama) done anything yet?'” Nyamwange said. “They think he’s going to announce that everybody can come over here.”
Nyamwange said he, like many Kenyan immigrants in America, has suddenly gained near rock-star status back home since the election.
“Everybody wants to come over here (to America) now,” Nyamwange said. “They want to come here and see things for themselves, and to thank Obama for making Kenya great.”
Wilfred Nyakundi, the owner of Mzalendo, a Jersey City convenience store that’s a popular gathering place for Kenyan immigrants, hears similar questions when his relatives call.
“The first thing they ask you these days is ‘How is Obama?’–before they ask ‘How are you?'” Nyakundi said with a laugh. “They are excited, and they want to know more from us. They think since we’re here, we’re experiencing things directly.”
Kenyans feel a special connection to Obama, and many in Jersey City, home to one of the nation’s largest Kenyan immigrant communities, are especially proud of Obama’s roots.
It doesn’t matter to them that Obama is an American, born in Hawaii to an American mother and Kenyan father, and has only visited the East African nation a handful of times. Kenyans see a source of home pride in every gesture.
Mogoi [Jaris Mogoi of Jersey City] said while others watched the inauguration to see what Michelle Obama was wearing or which dignitaries were in attendance, he kept his eyes on Obama’s Kenyan relatives on the dais. He was hoping to catch a glimpse of them making a dry spitting gesture into his palm–a Kenyan sign of blessing.
“If I wrote a book, I would not miss to say that I was a Kenyan in America when the first African-American was elected president, and he is a Kenyan,” Mogoi said. “When I saw the Americans shedding tears–and not being born here–to see Americans cry, I felt such joy I cried, too.”