Medina Osmanagic: How immigrant status can affect voter identity

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Medina Osmanagic is a child of Bosnian immigrants — an identity that has drastically influenced her participation in American politics.

Recalling her family's immigration history, Medina Osmanagic, 19, discusses her identity as an unregistered voter at Starbucks on Grand River Avenue in early September.

Caitlin Taylor

Recalling her family’s immigration history, Medina Osmanagic, 19, discusses her identity as an unregistered voter at Starbucks on Grand River Avenue in early September.

“My family is not very Americanized and barely speaks English,” said the junior studying neuroscience and Spanish at Michigan State University. “They feel like they are less than everyone else.”

While her parents have lived in the United States for 19 years – after seeking refuge from the Bosnian War – they continue to hold a strong connection to their home country. This relationship with Bosnia has specifically affected Osmanagic’s willingness to participate in U.S. elections.

“My parents have never voted a day in our (family’s) lives, so they never pushed it on us,” said Osmanagic. Even though they are U.S. citizens, “they feel like they don’t have the right to vote,” she added.

Between her family’s lack of a voting history and her own personal reservations with voting, Osmanagic sees herself following in her parents’ footsteps.

“I don’t think I could ever see myself voting,” she said. “I just try to avoid it.”

The immigrant status of her parents may have skewed her perception of voting since childhood, but it has also made her hesitant about this year’s election in particular. She feels that the media focuses on the downsides of immigration, and above all, fears what will become of immigration policies in a Trump presidency.

“I feel like instead of the free flow of immigrants that we have now, it would turn into a selectively permeable country, where we only let certain people in,” she said. “That is really bad because people come here to try to have a better life, and they will be turned away.”

While she feels strongly about immigration policies, Osmanagic said that knowing only the candidates’ positions on immigration will not give her enough of a reason to vote in the upcoming election. Beyond this, she feels like she barely knows the candidates.

“I think they both have their flaws, but only their flaws get promoted,” she said.

She feels that choosing between two candidates is particularly taxing because of the media’s emphasis on Donald Trump.

“I barely know anything about Hillary’s standpoints,” said Osmanagic. “Hillary could have so many good characteristics for a president that are just being put away.”

Despite what she considers a lack of sufficient media coverage, Osmanagic predicts that Clinton will be favored among young people. If not for Clinton’s policies, she believes that millennials will do anything to keep Trump out of the White House – but still expects voter turnout among young people to be fairly low.

Osmanagic’s predictions may not be far off for the major two party candidates. According to a New York Times Upshot/CBS News poll in early September, 38 percent of voters under 30 plan to vote for a third party candidate like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Based on voter turnout from the 2008 and 2012 elections, Pew Research Center has found that only about 50 percent of eligible millennials vote.

“A majority (of young people) don’t know much,” she said. “I feel like people don’t want the responsibility. They think the older generation will be voting.”

For Osmanagic, the last time she remembers learning about American politics, she was an eighth-grader in Forest Hills Public School District in Grand Rapids. As a 19-year-old college student, it has been seven years since she has formally heard about the election process – a problem that she feels our education system needs to address.

“I would have to look up how to vote,” said Osmanagic. “I feel like I could easily register, but it would be harder to get to know the candidates and do the research.”

Even if she committed her time to research and register, Osmanagic continues to believe that her vote would not matter. She would rather dedicate time to her studies and other passions.

“In everyday life, you are doing something to help,” she said. “Just doing your part as a citizen is enough. It is one piece of the puzzle.”

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