Sunday, November 09, 2008

teasing meaning and significance from the chaotic stream of daily contingencies

dear sabin,
you’re only seven and you’re growing up mostly danish, so i’m not sure that you understand the significance of this american election. you’ve watched with me on BBC and CNN, but i realize you don’t really comprehend it. i hope that one day you will. one of the things that i have worried about with you growing up outside the US is that you won’t be instilled with the good bits of the american dream...that part where you believe so much in yourself and your abilities that anything can happen. 
for a long time now, i haven’t really believed in that...i’ve felt much more ashamed to be american than anything. although many cite sept. 11, 2001 as the beginning of the end, for me, it started with the whole clinton-monica lewinsky thing followed by the debacle of the 2000 election and the resulting eight years of bush. it hasn’t been good for my identity, nor has it been good for me knowing what identity i hoped you would have.
but now, with the election of barack obama, it all feels different. it feels like hope has returned to the world. and with it my pride in being an american. i haven’t felt proud of that for a very long time. it’s strange how pride comes back intact in one fell swoop. i literally no longer feel the need to hide my passport as i stand in line for passport control.
don’t get me wrong, those people who found their voices during the bush years...people who are hyper-religious, people who believe jesus was hanging out with the dinosaurs, people who think that evolution is just a fluffy science thing that masks the “truth” of the bible, and especially people who would compromise a woman’s right to choose what happens in and around her own body...they were always there. it’s just that bush and those who brought him to power...the aptly named (because it means ass in danish) karl rove  and the dark lord dick cheney...made it ok for those people to speak up and be the loudest voices, spreading their bigotry and narrow-mindedness. those people who made sarah palin not only possible but logical as a VP candidate. those people who were afraid of other nationalities, didn't have passports and who weren’t really aware that there were other countries...those people were in power during your entire lifetime. and that gave me pause. because i wanted you to have the good parts of growing up american...especially the part about not believing there were any limitations if you worked for your dreams.
and i worried about you growing up danish, because the government that’s been in power in denmark since your birth has been equally if not more mediocre. no big ideas, actually not even any medium-sized ideas...only small minds and small thinking, anti-intellectualism..the ultimate in mediocre. not to mention afraid of the other. of which i have feared you would be classified with a foreign mother. so, what kind of world had we brought you into? i have to admit it has worried me. rather a lot.
but somehow, in my mind, the election of barack obama in the US changes everything. it’s a return to an intellectual politics. (at least it feels like that right now.) it’s a return to ideas. it’s a return to sanity. it’s a return to a world that acknowledges (and even just realizes) that there are a whole lot of other countries out there and holds a passport. it’s a return to thinking and logic. it’s a return to the silence of those radical right wingers (at least i hope it is), a space in which they don’t feel it’s ok to spread their hate and narrow-mindedness and try to force their version of god and their morality down everyone else's throat. it’s a return to the good parts of the american dream. and it makes me worry less about the world you will inherit and inhabit. 
but for you to understand it, perhaps i need to share with you with some thoughts from the guardian weekend edition (8.11.08) on what the election of barack obama seems to mean for the world...
“when, at 8:01 p.m., pacific time, CNN called the race for obama, we collapsed...the champagne, whose presence in the fridge i had thought to be ominously bad karma, was opened. no toast. just ‘thank god, thank god, thank god’,’ spoken by four devout atheists.” --jonathan raban . (i took the title of this post from his article as well.)
“for the last eight years, it’s been hard to keep the flame alive. those of us who have admired america since childhood--seeing it as endlessly fascinating, brimming with energy and founded on the deeply radical ideal of self-government--felt increasingly beleaguered after 2001. how to admire the land of ‘you’re with us or against us,’ embodied by a president with a cowboy swagger, waging a fraudulent war and threatening to choke the planet by belching out a quarter of the world’s CO2 and damn the consequences? america became bush country, its national symbol no longer the statue of liberty but abu ghraib. the flame was sputtering out.” --jonathan freedland 
“palin may despise the cities and the coasts, the new yorks and californias and the university towns--but that is the america that the rest of the world treasures. and now it is in the ascendant.” --jonathan freedland 
i think through the election process, especially since the naming of sarah palin as mccain’s VP, she is what provoked me most. probably, if i’m honest, because she in many ways, reminded me of me...a failed beauty queen who hopped from one university to another before finally gathering a degree. although my geography is better than hers, and i did eventually complete more than one degree and earn a fulbirght, would i really have been any smarter? or less ambitious? or less anxious to prove my small town background was good enough? i was left with the overwhelming feeling of wanting more and expecting more. and hoping there was more. after all, i know i wouldn't make a good vice president. this self-knowledge seemed to be disturbingly lacking in her.
i was a hillary supporter, mostly because i have a soft spot in my heart for bill. i heard him speak at commencement at the university of chicago in 1999 and could understand why monica lewinsky did what she did. he is such a dynamic individual, and although weak as a person, an embodiment of the good parts of the american dream. in a way, i felt it was hillary’s turn. and i was heartened to think that along with hillary, we would get bill. but somehow it’s different with obama and it’s become ok for me that he ended up the candidate and that he won. more than ok, actually. it’s the beginning of something new. a sense of hope and a return to all that’s good about the american dream. 
it isn’t going to be easy. the world you will inherit will be a different one. energy consumption will change, banking will change, the way you travel and how you spend your money will be different. but, i hope that you will be able to consider the entire world your home. but i also hope that you will feel a tie to a particular place that you consider your base...because a home is important. wherever it is, be that place denmark or the US (hopefully some of both, because you are the product of both). or perhaps it will be another place, should your parents choose to move you to norway or singapore. whatever the place, i hope that it will be a space in which you can be the thinking, intellectual being that i already see in you. i want so much for that space to be free for you to inhabit.
whatever may happen, i am more filled with hope now because of the election of barack obama. whatever he proves to do in the coming years, this moment of hope, this very one, is an important one. for us and for you and for the future. please treasure that and hold onto it for the future, no matter what else happens.

(composed on KL804 MNL-AMS, nov. 9, 2008)

6 comments:

Tin (ni Johann) said...

This was a lovely letter. Thank you for sharing it. ^_^

(We commemmorated Obama's win by having my 2-year-old's picture taken with the front page of our local newspaper.)

Amanda said...

Amen, sistah!

julochka said...

tin--what a great idea with the photo! :-)

amanda--thanks. :-) i'm so happy to be home.

tangobaby said...

julochka, you write this for so many of us, millions who feel the same way, even those of us who don't have a beautiful Sabin to raise. This is a letter for all Americans, and the children we put our hope in.

Thank you for this beautiful letter.

Kip de Moll said...

Great thoughts for a great time! I envy your perspective mixed into an internatinal community. We're all too full of ourselves here. I think the Obamas will help us to see a larger world.

Elizabeth said...

Identity is a strange thing. You can't touch it but it is in every fiber of your being. Some of the symbols will make you feel right at home and others in a deep dark dungeon.