Who Has the Immigrant Vote in the New Hampshire Primary?

Jeffrey Zhang at a rally at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. Zhang is a first-generation immigrant from Shanghai, China who supports Andrew Yang. Photo by Hoa P. Nguyen

Saturday before the New Hampshire primary, the temperature in Manchester dropped below 10 degrees. The muddy uphill trail leading to Saint Anselm College’s main entrance turned icy. Dozens of diehard campaigners shivered in the blustery weather. Some chanted and waved yellow and blue Pete 2020 signs. Others cheerfully flaunted their blue and green Amy for America banners. A smaller group held on tight to their blue and red Biden President flags. Despite the violent gusts of wind, a man with a big smile on his face ran back and forth holding a human-sized 1000-dollar bill with Andrew Yang’s face on it.

Among the enthusiastic campaign followers braving the cold were immigrants for whom American elections hold special appeal.

Jeffrey Zhang was shouting at the top of his lungs at the far end of a cascade of Yang supporters while carrying his wife’s checkered purse. “In 2016, you know, I was a Trump supporter,’ said the first-generation immigrant from Shanghai, China, who came to the U.S. with his parents in 1987. “But he doesn’t care about the working poor. He doesn’t care about colleges with high tuition. He only helps the super super-rich corporation to become richer and richer.”

Zhang, who works at a nursing home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, drove to Manchester with his wife just to voice his support for Andrew Yang. “Yang is the only person among these candidates who understands 21st century technology,” Zhang argued. “Right now, 60 percent of people have less than $500 in their bank. Seventy percent of American people don’t have $2,000 to repair cars. Donald Trump did not cut the cake fairly.” Zhang added that he voted for Trump four years ago because as a proud Christian, he had hoped that Trump would build a Third Temple in Israel.

Mohammad Mustak has lived in Nashua since 2013. Originally from Burma, Mustak is a Rohingya who lived in Malaysia for 17 years as a refugee before resettling to the U.S. thanks to an arrangement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Back in Burma, Mustak was first able to enroll in university because his father worked for the government. Towards his graduation, the administration found out he was Rohingya and refused to give him a certificate. He was then accused of making fake documents to go to college and was sent to jail for three months. To escape the genocide of Rohingya people in Burma, Mustak fled from country to country, including a month living in the jungle of Thailand.

In addition to being a part-time interpreter who speaks Burmese and Malay, Mustak works as a case manager at the non-profit Building Community in New Hampshire, which helps immigrants and refugees get access to healthcare, employment and education. He also founded the Rohingya Society of Greater Nashua and currently serves as the executive director.

Mustak became a citizen two years ago and this year will be the first time he gets to vote in the elections. “I already endorsed Bernie, like publicly,” he said. Mustak met the Vermont Senator in person at three events last year. “Bernie looks like he is my guy because he’s not a rich guy,” Mustak continued. “He has a long history of fighting for everybody.”

Mohammad Mustak and Sen. Bernie Sanders  at Nashua Community College, in September 2019. Photo by Mohammad Mustak.

Mustak said he talked to Senator Sanders about the genocide in Burma as well as international policy at large. “Almost three years we don’t have our community resettling to the U.S.,” he said. “So it looks like nobody is coming.” He added that there’s a lot the U.S. government can do to live up to its reputation as a welcoming place for refugees.

Sandra Pratt, a friend of Mustak and an immigrant from Curitiba, Brazil, who is undecided, says she wouldn’t support a candidate who wants to welcome all refugees and immigrants. “I don’t think that would work because we have a lot to do for the people that are already here,” she said.

Pratt came to the U.S. 20 years ago with the initial goal of learning English before going back to Brazil to finish her master’s degree in gerontology. She then married an American man and decided to stay. She left her husband after five years when he became verbally and physically abusive, and remarried in 2011. Fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese, she is now a trilingual service coordinator for individuals with developmental disabilities at Gateways Community Services.

Sandra Pratt, an immigrant from Brazil  is an undecided voter. Photo by Hoa P. Nguyen

Pratt made clear that she didn’t dislike immigrants — she is an immigrant herself. “But too much is too much and too much freedom is not good,” she said. Pratt is, however, an advocate for immigrants’ rights to education and employment opportunities. She believes that immigrants should be able to get social security numbers and tax IDs so that they can work and pay taxes. Pratt also cares about access to reliable transportation, which is one of the biggest issues in areas like Nashua, where some aren’t able to drive and without a public transportation system, it’s difficult for them to get to work, to school and wherever they want to go.

Pratt is also concerned about the discrimination facing immigrants, particularly young children at school. “I feel like the kids are discriminated against because they’re not legal in this country, so they don’t get all the support that they need at the school,” Pratt said.

As Democratic candidates convened in New Hampshire to round up their voters ahead of the primary, Pratt is still taking her time to consider. “I see flashes here flashes there, things here and there, but I’m not sure yet,” she said.

Hoa P. Nguyen is a graduate student in the Magazine and Digital Storytelling concentration.



Other Stories in Special Report: New Hampshire Primary 2020

More Black Voters are with Bernie

Sydney Fishman February 11, 2020

New Hampshire’s Gen Z voters focus on issues

Jonathan Sarabia February 11, 2020

Stephanie McClellan for Joe Biden

Thomas Hengge February 11, 2020

New Hampshire is booming for women engaging in politics

Ximena Del Cerro and Maureen Mullarkey February 11, 2020

New Hampshire residents split on which candidate will attack the state’s deadly opioid crisis.

Sope Aluko February 11, 2020

Immigrant voters in New Hampshire gear up for the primaries

Bessie Liu and Amanda Perez Pintado February 11, 2020

An international look at the New Hampshire Primary

Talgat Almaov and Alpha Kamara and Veronica Narkwor Kwabla February 11, 2020

Vermin Supreme promises free ponies for all if elected president

Shiyu Xu February 11, 2020

Democrats have a plan for the Opioid Crisis. Yet Trump tells the story many Americans want to hear

Catarina Lamelas Moura February 10, 2020

Candidates say NH needs to double minimum wage, but economists have mixed thoughts

Hannah Zhang February 10, 2020

Confused by Iowa and unsure about who is electable, some New Hampshire Democratic voters are pouring water on the first-in-the-nation primary. 

Ahmed Mohamed February 10, 2020

Gay bar owners hoping for security and respect in new America

Vinamrata Chaturvedi February 10, 2020

As the parties grow apart, their economic outlook does, too

Daniela Sirtori Cortina February 10, 2020

Courting the Youth Vote, But Will They Turn Out?

Jarrell Dillard February 10, 2020

Physicians’ donations shift to Democrats, biotech money supports GOP in the primaries

Marta Orosz February 10, 2020

Thriving while Sober in A Drug Crippled Industry

Zishu Sherry Qin February 10, 2020

Democratic Primary Boosts Business for Manchester and Nashua Establishments

Sam Del Rowe February 10, 2020

Trade Wars and Tariffs Matter in New Hampshire

Grace Cong Sui February 10, 2020

The Uber Primary

Justin McGown February 10, 2020

Are Sanders’ New Hampshire Supporters “Bernie Bros”?

Serafina Smith February 10, 2020

A Libertarian and His Lemur: Vermin Supreme Campaigns in New Hampshire

Sami Roberts February 10, 2020

New Hampshire Bar Turns Newsroom for Primary

Mili Godio February 10, 2020


Ahad Sanwari February 10, 2020

New Hampshire Republicans stick with party

Shanila Kabir and Karen Camela Watson February 10, 2020

New Hampshire battles opioid crisis as the state goes to primaries    

Gaurav Sharma February 10, 2020

Rod Webber’s Absurd And Bonafide Political Trolling

Michael Haley February 10, 2020