At Lyons the Rise of Obama Is a Valuable Example

obama_lemonde.jpgBy Herb Engstrom —

The main reason that I have supported Barack Obama since the declaration of his candidacy is that I feel he was the candidate that could improve the world’s image of America most rapidly. Here I have translated a relevant article that appeared last Friday in France’s “newspaper of record,” Le Monde.”


At Lyons the Rise of Obama Is a Valuable Example
Le Monde, 4 July 2008

Youth of the suburbs, intellectuals, local elected of the right and left: at Lyons the “Committee of Lyons Friends of Barack Obama,” one of the most active in France, sees in the rise of the Democratic senator hope for the promotion of minorities in the entire world. “America has always been an example for Europe, and Obama can therefore bring progressive thinking. For us, it’s an example, he shows us that it is possible,” says Sarah, 23 years old, a member and student at Lyons at a support meeting for the Democratic candidate in the American presidential election. At La Voile, a fashionable bar on the bank of the Saône in the center of Lyons, 200 supporters of the mixed-race senator mixed gaily Thursday evening to Caribbean music. At the bar, on a long terrace stretched out along the river, a group of girls sip cocktails. Beside Sarah, her friend Linda, 24 years old, a student of Tunisian origin, admires “the American self-made man that has succeeded despite his African origins.” Zélia, 27 years old, an accountant who lives in Villeurbanne, sees in him “the candidate of change who can change things in France. Here at home we still have only an ostensible diversity,” she concluded.

Inside the bar, in front of the dance floor, Olivier Nkom, 21 years old, a young man from Cameroon coming from the Lyons suburb of Vaulx-en-Velin, adjusts the sound system. He, who was never interested in politics, just experienced a revelation with Obama and decided to become active. “I was struck by his personal story, by the story of his parents. It reminded me of my own story,” he confided timidly. “It is that image that will perhaps permit us to dare, to understand that everyone can have a chance without regard to the color of one’s skin,” he added before returning to his cassette players.

Charles Ebaneth, 38 years old, French but of African origin, also comes from the suburbs, of Saint-Priest. He is a lawyer but above all president of the association “Suburban Talent,” a group of young specialists in immigration issues. He met up with the support committee for the American candidate “to be fired up.” “The youth of my association feel that here there is no longer a solution. I tell them to cross the English Channel or the Atlantic and to go to other places to see what is happening in London, in Quebec, in the USA.” “In the United States they would see that one considers talent above all, and that gives them courage; that inspires them greatly.”

Xavier Perrin is white with blue eyes. He came because he lived for several years in the United States and he knows that society well. This nurse of 59 years observes that “the blacks, the French of African origin, the whites see themselves in Obama because he represents a synthesis.”

In the crowd of supporters there is also Christian Bidonot, 56 years old, who proudly sports a T-shirt “With Obama, Race Doesn’t Matter.” Last January this Parisian editor from the Antilles created the “Overseas Obama organization” and is preparing to leave on a tour of these islands this summer to defend the American Democratic candidate. “That an Afro-American can accede to the highest political level even though his social origins are modest is an encouragement for all minorities,” he feels. According to him, Barack Obama replaces the soccer idols in their hearts. “A while ago, the youth of the suburbs wanted to become like Karim Benzema [a French soccer star from Algeria] or Thierry Henry [another soccer star]. Now they want to be Barack Obama. They want to get involved in politics. It’s extraordinary.”

herb_small_1.jpgBut Thursday evening after Obama whose large-format image is projected on the wall of the establishment, the other star is Karim Zéribi. One jostles to be near this left-wing city council member of Marseilles, icon of the suburbs, to have a photo taken at his side. However, he cuts short the discussion. It is out of the question to put forth the racial makeup of Obama, and even less to consider him as a symbol. “No, Obama was not chosen because of the color of his skin. That is not a symbol; it is the reality. He has succeeded in showing that the origin of his parents is of little importance,” he maintains. Zéribi sees in the enthusiasm created by the candidacy of Obama a telltale sign of the crisis in French society. “There is a small malaise here in France. If one is vitally interested in this campaign, it is because one would like to see this happen tomorrow here at home.”

–Translated by Herb Engstrom

Other articles by Herb:
Voters First: The Party Political Leaders Are Wrong

Born in San Francisco in 1941, Herb is a third generation Californian. His grandparents on his father’s side immigrated from Sweden; on his mother’s from Germany. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area attending schools in Redwood City and Pleasant Hill. He received A.B. and Ph.D. degrees in physics, both from the University of California at Berkeley. He was elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa in 1964. Before completing his formal education, Herb spent a year studying at a secondary school, Collège Cévenol, in France. Between undergraduate and graduate school, he served two years in the Peace Corps teaching science at a secondary school, King Geroge V School, in Seremban, Malaysia. In 1972 he married Mary Polchow. They have two children, Matthew and Katherine. Both were born in Korea and are adopted. After completing his studies, he and Mary lived for two years just outside Paris, France, where Herb had a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Paris at Orsay. The following period saw him working as a physicist at Brookhaven National Lab in New York and at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee. In 1981 the family returned to California and settled in San Jose, where Herb has been working in the disk drive and semiconductor metrology industries. In 2001 he established is own company, Tabor Enterprises, which performs various optical measurements on semicornductor wafers and on optical components such as polarization devices and liquid crystals. Mary was a teacher of learning disabled students in Mountain View; she retired at the end of the 1999 school year. Herb has become active in the local Democratic Party and serves on the County Central Committee, the Executive Board of the State Democratic Party, and as past president and current treasurer of the Santa Clara County Democratic Club. He has had a long time interest in traditional American music and plays guitar and 5-string banjo. He speaks French and at one time had attained reasonable fluency in Malay/Indonesian.

Published by the LA Progressive on July 7, 2008
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