Originally published on BrooklynCampaign.com on October 2, 2012
BROOKLYN, NY—In 1949, 23-year old Annemarie Larsen moved from Germany to Bay Ridge with her American soldier husband. “Nazi,” remembered Larsen, is what Germans were called in post-WWII Brooklyn.
Truman was the first president Larsen voted after she became a naturalized US citizen in 1953. But, three sons, two of whom fought in Vietnam, and five great-grandkids later, Larsen, now 87, decided that her vote doesn’t matter.
Raised by her Yemeni mother, 19-year old Maram Kaid was born in Bay Ridge and has lived there all of her life.“Terrorist,” is what Kaid and her mother would often hear in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
The November 2012 election will be the first time Kaid votes for president. But 11 years after the terrorist attacks, and after the deportation of her father, she remains uncertain of the value of her vote.
Bay Ridge’s 5th Avenue is filled with markets, hair salons, clothing shops, and bakeries have their regulars and signs in their windows of local candidates, including Andrew Gournardes, Marty Golden, Michael Grimm, and Nicole Malliotakis.
In a clothing store that sells colorful hijabs, skirts, and dresses, Kaid sits and listens to music while she awaits for costumers. Two blocks away, Larsen sits on a bench, a local resident for over forty years. Both have decided that they will not vote in any election this year because they don’t see their communities and their concerns addressed.
“I was disappointed so many times.”
“No one cares about senior citizens,” said Larsen. Larsen has been struggling with high rents while living on a fixed income. She lives alone, paying $1200 a month for her apartment.
Despite living here for over 40 years, she continues to subscribe to German magazines, surround herself with artwork from her home country, cook traditional dishes like German Apple Cake, and attend weekly meetings with fellow German emigres for a chance to speak their home country’s language.
Larsen was eight when Hitler came to power. She remembers going to vote with her mother. At the polling place, were soldiers holding guns. “How would you vote?” said Larsen.
She left Nazi Germany in 1949, following her American soldier husband, Arthur Larsen, to his home in Brooklyn.
Moving to Bay Ridge was an adjustment. At first, she didn’t like the English language, but learned it by listening to music from American Forces Network and writing down the lyrics. In Bay Ridge, it was difficult to showcase German nationality and ancestry, as they would be called ‘jew-haters.’
Her father fought, her husband fought, and her sons fought in wars. Larsen’s two sons fought in Vietnam; one was drafted and another enlisted.
“I know what war was. It was a hard time for me,” said Larsen.
She registered with the Republican party because of her husband, who believed the Democrats were the war party. First voting for Truman, and also voting for Kennedy and Nixon, she stopped voting soon after her husband’s death.
“[I stopped voting] because I’m tired of it,” said Larsen. “I was disappointed so many times.”
“No one deserves to be president;” Two Muslim girls encounter politics.
Kaid’s father was deported to Yemen when she was in 6th grade and she has not seen him since. “I was a little daddy’s girl,” said Kaid.
So her mom become both the mother and father. “On Father’s Day, [we always] get mom a cake,” said Mimi. Her mom, 37, is a seamstress and manages a store 78th street.
Kaid’s mom will be getting a green card. She has lived in the possibility of the deportation of her mother.
After 9/11, she remembers while walking with her mom when a man started following them, cursing.
“I didn’t understand targeting Muslims but I wasn’t gonna stay quiet,” said Kaid. “Just because you have a headscarf doesn’t make you a terrorist.”
A woman wears a headscarf, called a hijab, after puberty. Kaid explained that a woman wears it when she’s ready, as a choice, which often leads to comments and questions.
“You can tell that I’m Muslim,” said Kaid.
Kaid’s 18-year-old friend, Jenna Hakim, has also lived in Bay Ridge all of her life. Jenna hasn’t seen her mother since she was deported in 2003.
Before her mom was deported, Jenna showed her enthusiasm for Obama with a jacket covered with Obama pins. “No one deserves to be president,” she said.
Two years ago, Jenna woke up at 6:30 on an August morning. Someone answered the door, the suddenly police appeared outside and inside the house.
They said that they simply wanted Jenna’s mother for questioning.
“Don’t worry,” someone told her, because she has four American citizen children. Crying, her mom left. Later in the afternoon, she received a call telling her that mom has been placed in a detention center in Jersey.
Jenna didn’t know her mom was undocumented until she was taken away.When she finally found out that her mom was being deported, it was her friend Kaid who told her.
It turned out that Jenna’s mom had been arrested in 1991 for involvement in a phone scam that allowed people to call overseas for free. Twenty years later, they found her.
“I don’t know who said what,” said Jenna. She wrote emails and letters every week asking for her mom to be brought home.
She was told that something would be done, but she is still waiting for her mom.
As presidential candidates offer talking points on issues of immigration and the economy, the issues seem remote from the experiences of Jenna, Kaid and Larsen – a disconnect that explains some of what analysts often dismiss as voter apathy.
The unanswered question is whether any presidential candidate can bridge the gulf between national policy and the real world of people like the women in Brooklyn.
“I’m convinced that [President Obama] wants to [change things] but he can’t,” said Larsen. “All of life is repetition.”