Wednesday, November 5, 2008

my cousin's account of Election Night - Nov 4th, 2008

for those who know me well, you know i'm not the best of writers - i choose instead to share my feelings through music or imagery. my cousin, Antonio, encapsulated last night better than i ever could. his email to our family and to his friends is below. enjoy.

From the early morning, as Cheryl and I were some of the first people to vote at our polling place, I saw excitement and hope on the faces of so many people I'd never seen come out to vote before. This was my 3rd presidential election living in my current house and 5th presidential election I could participate in. In all of those elections, I had never seen so many people out and voting. So many Americans inspired to do what so many other Americans have often taken for granted - participating in our election process with a feeling that their actions would mean something and their voices would be heard.

All through the day and into the evening as polling places began to close, I could sense the truly palpable feeling of joy, just under the surface as everyone began to celebrate the unthinkable happening. Myself, I walked around in a daze much of the day and early evening. Unlike my wife, I wasn't moved to tears in the voting booth, thinking about the historic moment I was participating in. Unlike my friends and coworkers I wasn't practically dancing on air as I went about my day. I couldn't get past the divisions brought out in the last 2 elections and the unethical lengths people have and continued to go to, trying to undermine our democratic process.

I wouldn't let my hope and adulation overtake the feelings of dread and fear as I heard in the last days of this election, the terrible things that some people were doing. The fliers being handed out in urban areas urging Democrats to vote on Wednesday, the day after the election. The phone calls that were being made to first-time Latino voters telling them they could just vote over the phone. The calculated, un-American actions of some, gripped my emotions and kept me stoic.

So as I made my way to Grant Park in Chicago it was in small steps that my fear and unease were washed away.

4 miles out I began to see clusters of police officers on every block. Not Chicago's 1968 police officers, but happy men and women casually waving to passersby, laughing with each other. I hoped we'd have a pleasant, peaceful celebration this night. I felt a little better.

3 miles out I encountered throngs of people waiting at bus stops, riding their bikes alongside mine, walking all eastward towards the lake. Joyous people, cheering, high-fiving everyone, and waving flags. I felt a little better.

2 miles out I could see search lights lighting up the sky next to Chicago's skyline. Car horns were blasting, city buses 50 deep, were parked along the roads waiting to help with the crowds. The energy around me was like the victorious post-game euphoria I felt at Soldier Field after a recent Chicago Bears football game. I felt a little better.

1 mile out and all the roads were blocked to motorized traffic. Crowds burst the boundaries of all the sidewalks and were filling the lanes of the street. Young and old, in strollers and wheelchairs, people of every age, race, and color made up the massive wave of humanity. People in elegant evening wear next to whole families in giant fuzzy Uncle Sam hats lit up with red, white and blue lights. Everyone coming together. I felt a little better.

As I began to walk up Michigan Avenue from Roosevelt, just across from the Field Museum and Soldier Field, I was taken aback by the sheer enormity of the celebration. The lengthy downtown park was filling up with people. The length of Michigan Avenue, for as far as I could see northward, was full. As I passed block after block, I'd look westward and see for half a mile that all the roads were closed and completely full of people. An endless wave was washing into Grant Park. In a true Democratic capitalist fashion, people were selling tee-shirts, flags, blinking pins, photos, anything to commemorate the moment. People were dancing, shouting, laughing, hugging. I walked my bike around in a daze for quite a while, unsure of where to go and just taking it all in. It was incredible.

Eventually I locked up my bike and followed everyone up the Congress Parkway, over the bridge and into Grant Park. Columbus drive was closed and filling up with people. There were massive television screens in every direction with tens of thousands of people gathering in all corners of the park and everywhere in between. I milled about and settled into a spot that afforded me a nice view of a couple large screens showing live CNN.

In almost too short of time, CNN announced Barack won Virginia and and people everywhere around me were cheering ecstatically. Thousands of cameras and cellphones were raised in the air, recording the moment American politics changed. In a flash they project Obama the President elect of the United States of America. While the quarter of a million people around me went crazy, I sat stunned. I still couldn't believe it was happening. I still couldn't believe that this was possible. I didn't cheer yet. I just looked around me confused.

That's when I noticed near me, 3 generations of African American men standing together. The youngest a 8 or 9-year-old boy next to what must have been his father. On the other side was his grandfather, an elderly black man with white hair, wearing a full tuxedo with tears in his eyes. In an instant I imagined the incredibly different lives they've had and will have. I got goose bumps as I understood in a way, how this marks a change in America and the American experience for each of them. More personally I came to the stark realism of what has been helping hold my enthusiasm back and how this affects me.

In that instant I was taken back to being a 3 grader in a working class neighborhood in Lansing, Michigan. My 2 best friends, a boy who's family recently immigrated from Mexico and an African-American boy who's grandparents came to Michigan from the south. My friends would often repeat what their father's told them about racial injustice. They would look at my white skin and my friends would parrot their father's anger over the history of the US and Mexico or the history of slavery and segregation, and they would blame me. I'd come home in tears confused about complex situations I had nothing to do with and little to no understanding of. As I entered high school and struggled with a divided family, I was forced to struggle with a divided sense of self. In my new rural school, I was no longer the minority white kid battling my friend's parent's racial misunderstandings, but the minority latino kid, singled out for being a foreigner and different. No intellectual argument about my family's American story, education or achievements could stop the taunts or ridicule. Even my "friends" took to calling me "bean dip," "wet back" and "taco bender."

Thankfully I was able to put my childhood behind me and as I went to college and into my adult life I have defined myself as I chose. Over these last couple of decades I've worked and lived in communities and with a generation of Americans that don't see the world in the black and white terms that still plague some parts of the US. I look around at my friends and coworkers and we aren't so quick to see anyone as one racial group, ethnicity, or social group. Like Barack Obama and myself, so many of us are made up of multiple cultures, religions, ethnicities and beliefs. We are the emerging America that is rising above the baggage of the Baby Boom generation and taking the reigns of government, business and community leadership. A generation that is looking to the American Millennial generation, which came out in such force this election and more then 40% of which is comprised of a ethnic minority, to help us all move into a post-racial era. An era when the latinos, black, asians, people of different religions, and cultural groups can all work together to create an America that is really for all humanity. Where all men and woman ARE created equal. I look forward to coming generations of ethnic or religious minorities feeling as much a part of America as the descendants of once ridiculed and persecuted Irish, Italian or Catholic immigrants now feel.

I felt all of this in that moment in the park, looking at 3 generations of an African American family besides me. The realization that the young black boy won't have to live in the same America that his grandfather had to, gave me chills. While I still struggle with racial intolerance and anti-immigrant feelings with people I know and love, in that moment I felt joy. Hope and joy that my son won't grow up experiencing what I've experienced. He'll grow up in a better America even closer to the ideals set out in the Declaration of Independence.

As I struggled with all of this, the Star Spangled Banner began to play. All I could do was stand and cry. Even now I'm moved just writing this.

1 comment:

Lady Luck said...

Pretty amazing account, pretty amazing night, absolutely amazing move on our part here in America. We are that much closer to 'freedom'.