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Inaugurating a New Season

I was raised to love and honor my country--and all its people. I was raised by parents who walked into the civil rights movement quietly and unquestioningly, because their faith and their patriotism taught them that we are, indeed, all equal and all live within one great divinity that can never be fully described even as it can be experienced. At age 15, from the altar of a small church in Mississippi, my mother shared with her congregation why she knew segregation was wrong. As young newlyweds, my parents were the organizers of the first multiracial church youth camp, where African American, Latino, and Anglo teenagers all came together--and had fun, too.

It is clear that the history of racism in the United States has many a despairing chapter, that there was much recorded for posterity of the inexcusable and unforgivable treatment of people of color by people of shades of "white," but this is a good day to remember that there were bright chapters in this story. Chapters that include many, many people who, without a shred of publicity, did the right thing for the right reasons. I think, too, of the mother of a friend of mine, a school principal in Louisiana, who held the hand of a small black girl as she walked through the National Guard line on the first day of integration. She risked her life by taking that child's hand. You have never heard her name, nor have we heard the names of thousands of others who did similar acts.

But these acts were done. Again and again. Proving that quiet, steady, even small acts add up, that these remain the foundation of a country made for and by its people. Democracies flourish on this kind of steadiness, commitment, and dedication to living right by ourselves, each other, and our God.

There is much press about the historic significance of the US having its first African American president. But that is only the first sentence of this new chapter. This President is both African American and American. His connection to Africa is just one generation behind him. When he looks out at an audience before he speaks, resonating with an inner stillness and poise, I think I can see African wisdom in him--a wisdom too long ignored by most of the world. I also see a fresh wisdom, a product of his growth in this multifaceted nation of ours. And, this brings me to the second sentence in the new chapter: Humanity trumped race, as it always should.

People voted for Barack Obama, because of all the things he is. When I talked to voters, no one even mentioned race. They always took the conversation straight to his personality, skills, style--but not his race, or as we could say, his "races", because he clearly carries both the Anglo American and African American races within him, and let's not forget the Hawaiian "onda," as well. The joy for me over this new president is that race did not matter.

Racial and cultural differences make us interesting--they make some of us fascinating! But these differences are no cause for separation, alienation or discrimination.

I can see that my country has learned that now. I can see that all the efforts of the people we never heard about from the 1960s to the 2000s of all races and walks of life have borne fruit. That we are well on our way to race not even being a subject of discussion. That is a cause for joy, but not my only one today.

There have been many times when I have learned of government scandals, greedy corporations, and other portions of American society that have made me feel cynical, worried, or needing to protest in some way. But in these last eight years, what I have felt about my country is despair. My country is blood-stained now, and the heart of its "middle" class is weary, if not broken. And with the despair, I felt shame--for so many reasons. Reasons that ranged from being embarrassed that we had a president who could just barely get through a speech to a vice president who used the f-word in a session of Congress, shamed by my nation ripping another nation to pieces for no good reason, and shocked by what may be the world's greatest heist-- financial institutions bilking hard-working Americans, then accepting billions of dollars that have suddenly "disappeared." And finally, shamed by a government that turned a blind eye to the latest Israeli / Palestinian battle, as more than a thousand civilians, and hundreds of children died. Even when the UN shelters were bombed, the US official voices kept quiet.

I am not ashamed in this inaugural season. I have a variety of hope within that is new and fresh, combined with the quiet patriotism that has always been a kind of eternal flame inside me. I believe that we can return to what being American truly means. And that meaning has nothing to do with consumerism and success in usual terms. It has everything to do with living up to the ideals this nation was founded on. It means being who we are without the props. It will be hard in many ways. But it will also be good. We need to remember that ease is not always a characteristic of success or progress. Hard times can also be good times.

I am reminded today of a conversation I had with an Englishman who worked for an international charity. He told me that our country was very important to him, and I asked him why. He replied: "America is the country who has always had a chance to get things right. If your country cannot live up to its ideals, it bodes ill for all the rest of us. We look to you as an example."

Let us, then, enter this next presidential term together, truly together, uniting and celebrating our differences. Let us take our light out from under the bushel and, once again, create a new day.

Text and image, copyright Ysabel de la Rosa, all rights reserved.

Comments

Well said, dear Ysabel. I agree with everything you've written. And what exceptional parents you had! I see them in you.

And speaking of seeing you - I will soon. An e-mail to follow by tomorrow.
C.

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