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Friday, April 25, 2014

Believe in America

Jaime R. Vergara

Our title was the slogan of Romney’s attempted trip to the White House. He did not make it out of Boston, but the slogan turned out to be the theme we picked up from Obama’s victory speech in Chicago.

One of my English classes is off campus in a college connected to our university, scheduled on a Wednesday, but the English department had in the last month two occasions when they asked me to perform an extra task so we ended moving the class to Thursday. The last time we met last week, we asked the class to make the change permanent.

So this Wednesday, we had a day off in time to watch Singapore’s NewsAsia and China’s CCTV, state-owned media stations, broadcast the returns of the U.S. presidential election. Since China time at midday is EST’s 11pm, we were wide awake to what was billed as a long night of a close and expected drawn out contest, perhaps to the last ballot tally in Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. By midnight EST, Obama secured his second term in office.

Wednesday morning, I had laid out the corn chowder that was going to be my lunch if Romney somehow managed to squeak through, while I had a quarter of a breaded chicken ala Chicago Southside for Obama and the city’s stockyards.

Of course, I had gone along with NY Times’ Nate Silver early on in the week to project an Obama landslide in spite of the nail-biting projections of the Atlantic seaboard pundits, so I already had a taste for the chicken.

Mitt Romney’s concession speech was pleasantly subdued and conciliatory. We decided to have the soap and the chicken together while we waited for the man of the hour to take the podium in Chicago. He bounded into the stage with the confidence Obama exhibited during his first campaign, and essentially did a reprise of the “this is your victory” theme he flung to supporters at Grant Park, though this time, he picked up on the GOP theme, affirmed his belief in America, and gave the message the twist it needed.

A context from my side. “Belief” as an operational word had long been dropped from my vocabulary since we discarded the medieval theological metaphors of metaphysics. “Belief” became what one obstinately hangs on to when contrary evidence is presented to refute a closely held truth. Thus if and when I say, “I still believe so-and-so,” I do so against the wind. We tend to use the word “faith” to say what is felt deeply in the guts with conviction.

Our Hawaii-born Chicago Southside community organizer turned the Tuesday midnight event into a Midwest revival meeting. He was, of course, preaching to the choir. The audience highly energized, already singing the hallelujah chorus, they rip roared to the rafters to hear the gospel of their familiar.

Obama did not disappoint.

He told his “congregation” that in this election, they reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted the country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each will pursue their own individual dreams, we are an American

family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

Heady stuff. I reflexively opened my desk drawer and started thumbing through my blue book out of its passport holder. I remember the day in ‘84, after 12 years of green carding it through INS, I took on U.S. citizenship, making our family’s international diversity (two U.S., one Canada, one Pea Eye) into an American family affair.

It was from a black ghetto on the Westside of Chicago 1967 where I first heard from a Methodist brother the No-Messiah-Messiah articulation. I had never been comfortable with the traditional Christian piety’s mythology of a second coming and the millennial reign of the Christos. So the story resonated in its emancipating force.

The story was plucked out of John in the Christian New Testament. Jesus was passing through one of Jerusalem’s pool when he came upon a 38-year-old paraplegic lying on his bed. He asked the man, the story tells, “Do you

want to get well?” The man gives his lifelong excuse of not being able to get to the hocus-pocus when the angel of the Lord comes to stir the waters. The man from Galilee tells him, “Well, why don’t you pick up your bed, and walk?” He did, and he walked. We did, too, and we walked!

Some characterized Obama as a Miss-yeah, or a Mess-ayah, having made promises that he reportedly did not deliver. I included his Grant Park acceptance speech in my Oral English class expanded notebook for practice reading, so I know the message is different and unmistakable. Yes, WE can! Many Americans wanted the “We” to be an Obama “I”.

This second term, Obama was not going to make the same mistake. As the crescendo of his preaching intensified, he boomed: “...America’s never

been about what can be done for us; it’s about what can be done by us together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. ...What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth, the belief that our destiny is shared...”

By then, misty eyes visited this crusty old coot. We straightened our back, dipped the spoon into the corn chowder, and relished our chicken for the day.
Yes, WE can!

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