The first cheers came from a few blocks away. After that, the images blur together. A couple popping champagne on their front steps. Dashing into an election-night party in someone’s living room, right before everyone ran into the street. Two men making out, as their girlfriends stared incredulously.
As the initial shock turned to euphoria Tuesday night, Mission residents poured out of their bars, houses, wherever they had cooped up to watch the results of the day’s button-pushing, bubble-filling and arrow-crossing unfold.
I knew it would come. Running down Valencia Street, rushing back to our makeshift newsroom to get images online, I knew I couldn’t stop or it would overwhelm me. Even while shooting it came: a glaze of the eyes, a quiver or small bite of the lip.
Last night, we didn’t just elect our first African-American president. We elected our first half African-American president.
I grew up in a mostly white neighborhood in southern Louisiana, with a Guatemalan mother and an Iranian father. I was, jokingly, the school “terrorist.” I’ve been called “that Chinese boy,” “sand ni***r,” or even, on one occasion by a very drunk friend, “Mexican-ish.” I still don’t let her forget it.
Most people can’t really understand what it’s like growing up mixed race. You never truly fit in with any one group. Identify too much with one side, and you risk offending or alienating the other. We saw this at the beginning of the campaign, when African-Americans would ask questions such as “is Obama black enough?” Meanwhile, we heard constantly how he could never capture the “white vote.”
I wondered if Obama felt the estrangement or isolation from groups he was a part in growing up. What was it like being a black boy in Indonesia? Was it anything like being Iranian-Guatemalan in Louisiana? Did that help to create his much vaunted (and criticized) cool, detached demeanor?
Obama’s victory last night was not only a victory and vindication for African-Americans, but also a victory for Latinos, Asians, whites and those of every color in between. The outpourings in the Mission, Castro, Union Square, Berkeley, New York, Philadelphia, reflected the cultural gumbo that is America. Yet we still have work to do.
Much was made of John McCain’s repudiation of the woman at a rally who said Obama was an Arab. His response was, “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man.” This seemed to placate much of the mainstream media, but for a large portion of us begs the question, “But what if?”
What if he was an Arab? Or a Muslim? McCain’s response, along with much of the coverage of the Obama-Muslim-Arab issue implies that there are no Arab men or men from the southeastern corner of Asia who can be decent family men, let alone president. What does this say about the millions of Arab or Muslim American citizens?
Even a day later, I still don’t believe it. I can’t believe that in 77 days we will see a dark-skinned man, a man with the funny-sounding name, enter the White House — not as a foreign dignitary or a rare Congressional figure, but as the President of the United States.
This morning, as I adjusted the same tattered brown corduroy jacket I wear every day, I stared in the mirror and paused for a second.
“Did it really happen?”
Of all of the images from last night, all the celebrations, hugs, kisses, shouts for joy, one picture sticks out. As the revelers raged, two individuals in a laundromat, seemingly oblivious to the orgasmic climax of the past two years, loaded their laundry into dryers. Life goes on.
Our economy is in freefall. A city has been destroyed. Our flag has transformed from a symbol of freedom to a symbol of injustice and oppression. On Tuesday night we celebrated. We celebrated as some of us, for the first time in our lives, truly felt American, and felt that America, right up to that person in the White House, represents us.
Now, we get dressed, look ourselves in the mirror, and realize we still have a hell of a lot of work to do.