Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Free At Last

All those years I marched for civil rights finally came to fruition in our new president, Barak Obama. I look past the color of his skin and see a man of principle, a man who has ethics and holds values similar to mine: a man who remained calm while the Republicans did their best to play their usual dirty tricks; a man who took a day off and flew 6,000 miles to visit the woman who raised him; a man who made sure his grandmother got to see her great grandchildren last summer. (surely the family must have known that she was terminal at that point) That, to me, said way more than any political stance he has taken—although I agree with most of those too.
A few weeks ago one of my ESL night students asked me who I was going to vote for and I replied that, as a teacher, I choose not to bring my political opinions in the classroom (I admit that my values come to the forefront at times, but if our current president, George W. What’s-His-Name does not uphold those values, then it is a blot on his name, not my value system) I told her, “I’ll tell you after class—out in the hall—as a private citizen, but not while I’m behind the desk in the roll of a teacher.” She understood, dropped it for the rest of class, and then cornered me as soon as I walked out the door. “I’ve already voted absentee,” I said. “For Obama.” She smiled and seemed satisfied.
I love the way I found out the results of the election. I was in the classroom that Tuesday night, as usual. It was around 9:00, Pacific Standard Time. Although I ask the students to turn off their cell phones, I allow the parents in my class to keep their phones on vibrate in case of a family emergency, so I didn’t think much about it when this same woman had her cell phone on her desk. It vibrated, she checked it, then stopped the class to announce, “Obama just won! He got 2,700 votes in that special thing.” I said, “Oh, he received 270 electoral college votes?” “Yeah, that’s it!” So, I found out the next President of the United States from a woman who may or may not be a legal immigrant of this country, she being a transplant to California from our neighbors to the south.
The next day I got a congratulatory note from a former student who has been home in Japan for over a year. She was an ESL student of mine at the University of Hawaii several years ago and went on to get her associates degree in business while her visa was valid. She said,
Congratulations, Marilyn ! I am very happy to hear that Mr. Obama
will become next President of United States. We saw the historical
moment , and you are the one of them who made this history. After
I hard that his wining, I felt the air is lighter. Japanese TV news
showed us the wining speech of Mr. Obama at Chicago a little bit.
I moved it. He is amazing! And I am glad that you did not dust off
your passport.

I just want to say thank you to you, Marilyn. Thank you for teaching
me English. I am so glad that I could understand his speech today.
Thank you for having me as your student of your American History
class in Hawaii. Because you taught me about the history of race
discrimination with open mind, I could share the delight with people
like you, today, even though, I grow up in Japan.

Between the two women, I really felt an international connection—like my daily rounds as a teacher carried farther than just jumping through the next academic hoop; that I had made a difference in some people’s lives other than passing the next test. The international connection came to fruition—that we all share this earth together, and what affects one affects us all.
For a couple of days after the election, I, like many of my friends, said they found themselves shedding tears—of joy, of relief, of feeling like the steam had been let off the top of the pressure cooker of this country. The night I heard of the election results in my classroom, I was able to hold in the tears for half an hour in front of the class, but on the way to the parking lot they rolled down my cheeks and I cried the whole 45-mile drive home. The next day I found myself thinking about the results of the election at odd moments during the day; upon arising the air felt lighter, the sun shone brighter, the clouds skittered lightly across the sky. When I got home from work on Wednesday I sat down to eat my lunch and turned on the TV and happened to catch a newscast of the election results. They showed the clip of Jesse Jackson with tears streaming down his face. Having marched with Jackson and Dick Gregory in the ‘60’s, the relief in his eyes and the tears streaming down his cheeks started me crying all over again.
The day after the election, my landlord put up the American flag out on the fence, next to her Obama/ Biden poster. She said she was finally not ashamed to put up the American flag anymore—that she was proud of her country again. Sad state of affairs, isn’t it? That Americans had become so jaded and ashamed of their country that they would not hang out the national symbol. I knew exactly how she felt. I still cannot sing the Star Spangled Banner—too much violence in it, but America, the Beautiful takes on a whole new meaning again.
As I was driving on the back road to Santa Paula to work the day after the election, I saw a piece of plywood painted red nailed to the fence. I had my eyes on the road, so only caught the last word of the short message, which had been stenciled in big white letters: Socialist. I thought, “Uh oh. Not everyone was thrilled with the results of the election. I won’t jump to conclusions, but will drive slower and look for the sign when I go to work on Tuesday. Unfortunately, it was near the gardens of the best Italian restaurant in town. Oh well. I know how to cook spaghetti sauce…

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