Friday, November 07, 2008
Mutt Like Me
I didn't cry until this morning.
I've gotten emotional this week, of course. Tuesday night was amazing. I watched Obama's victory speech in awe and astonishment. But I never cried until today, watching his first post-election press conference.
Oddly enough, it was a question about dogs. He has promised his girls a dog if they move into the White House, and he was asked a light-hearted question about the kind of dog they were considering. And he said that he needed to consider getting a hypoallergenic dog because one of his girls is allergic.
But he then said that his preference was to get a dog from a shelter, and "most shelter dogs are mutts like me." I pumped my fist and cheered. And then I got misty-eyed.
Barack Obama is a mutt. He's a mixture, a hybrid, a biracial blend. He is both black and white, Kenyan and Hawaiian and Kansan, a swirl of cultures all at once.
I know something about this.
My father is 1st-generation Mexican-American, by which I mean that his parents were Mexican-born. He was born in Michigan, an American citizen although his father never became a naturalized citizen. He grew up speaking Spanish and English.
My mother was French-Canadian and English, from western Massachusetts. When they married and he came to New England to meet her family, he found them all staring anxiously out the window as he approached. They had never seen a Mexican person before, you see, and they couldn't wait to see what he looked like.
My childhood was a mixture of identities. I was never white, but never as dark as the pure Mexican kids in my neighborhood. I was in-between. I had a Spanish last name, but I couldn't speak Spanish beyond perro and gato. I was a typical American kid in most respects, I like to think: cable tv, video games, Sesame Street. And yet, there was that other thing that was so inconsequential and yet set me apart from the other kids on my block. I was different.
When I was thirteen, my family moved to a rural town in Colorado and I had to adjust to a whole new speed of living. I went from city life to a farm town. I adjusted well, learned to love country music and the Denver Broncos. I found many friends, graduated near the top of my class. I was in six plays in four years, played two years of high school baseball, won my first writing contest.
I believe today that because of my in-betweenness, I learned to drift and float between cultures and identities. Because I was always something in-between, I learned how to adapt to people who weren't exactly like me and assimilate myself to be just like them. As long as I needed to - until I needed to adapt to another group for an hour or a week or a year.
There were Mexican kids in my school who were low-riders, dropouts, drifters. There were also kids who were great students, cheerleaders, football stars. They weren't like each other, and none of them was like me, and I wasn't like any of them. I was someone who moved into town just in time to start 9th grade. I was an outsider as the new kid, the different kid. And then I was just me.
When I look at Barack Obama, I see a life story like mine. I was born in Michigan to a father whose parents were born in another country. He was born in Hawaii to a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya. I grew up a half-Mexican kid in Detroit and rural Colorado. He grew up a black kid in Honolulu and Indonesia.
I hear all these stories about how he crosses party lines, how well he works with political opponents, how he befriends his enemies. We do that. We see things from outside, always from outside, always sampling the other person's point of view. We wear different perspectives as a matter of course. We are always looking for the perspective that hasn't been expressed, for the point of view that isn't being noticed, the middle ground between the warring factions. We blend, and we try to bring together the seemingly irreconcilable as a matter of habit.
I have voted for presidents every year since 1988, and this is the first time I have been happy with my pick. No, more than that. I was overjoyed to select the name of Barack Hussein Obama to be my next president. He is of my generation - just eight years older than me. He is a parent of young children, like me. Like me, he married someone beautiful and intelligent and his equal, if not his better, in nearly every way. (Hi, sweetie.)
But it's deeper. Barack Obama has that complicated, hard-to-explain life story that I recognize all too well. He's several things all at once. He is at once African-American and white and neither of those things. He is a blend, multiracial, like me. He's a drifter between worlds, like me. He's a mutt, just like me, just like millions of Americans.
He's one of us.