Since November, I had been overwhelmed many times by the idea that America’s 44th president would be Barack Hussein Obama. However as idea became embodied yesterday, I let the tears stream down. I was shaking not much because of the cold but because a profound and fundamental change has come to pass and I was in the midst of it. Enlarged on the jumbotron was a face whose shade of skin and features are close to mine. The face of a man who has lived in and knows Southeast Asia. A man who has an Asian sister. A man with whom I share some core beliefs about community, justice and responsibility.
And as he was being sworn in, I recalled why I immigrated to the United States 18 years ago – the promise of America’s freedoms and ideals. A promise that has, for the most part, been kept.
Nonetheless, though a Black man is now president, the fact remains that a significant number of African Americans, Asians, Latinos and people of color do not enjoy the prosperity, privileges and power White Americans enjoy. Gay and transgendered women and men are second class citizens denied the stability and security most straight Americans take for granted. Although I am fortunate in some ways, I, as a gay man of color, still dream of the day when I will truly be a full citizen.
Walking towards the Mall at the wee hours of January 20, 2009, alongside thousands of others determined to be part of this long-awaited and fought for change, I remembered the EDSA Revolution of 1986, when Filipinos collectively chanted “Tama Na!” – Enough! We peacefully protested against a brutal and corrupt dictatorship, and against all odds, prevailed. Then too were there tears and dancing. Disbelief. Relief. Euphoria.
But then the promise of a new order was never met and change was small. Inequity, poverty and corruption persist over two decades later.
Reality will also settle in for us sooner than we’d like to, but I do hope that President Obama keeps his promises and helps us “recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; Latino, Asian, and Native American; black and white, gay and straight, disabled.” And I hope that we heed his challenge “to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”