With the election of Obama as president, comes the dawning of a new era of our making.
On Election Day, my 7-year-old daughter took care to cross out the names of the “already voted” on our list and left doorhangers at each empty house as we walked door-to-door turning out the vote. When I was about her age, Ronald Reagan had just been elected president, ushering a new era of politics that has finally hit a beachhead after 30-plus years. At her age, I had no sense of the meaning of Reagan’s ascent and, like any father, I wanted her experience to be deeper than my own.
However, I personally did not fully grasp the meaning of the day until the eve of the election when Obama spoke of Anne Nixon Cooper in his victory speech.
Pictured here, Anne Nixon Cooper is an elderly African American women who was born when the memory of slavery remained fresh to her parents and when her right to vote would have been denied due to her gender and the color of her skin. She spent the last 106 years of her life witnessing the cycle of despair and hope throughout the history of the US . Throughout her story, Obama highlights the events in which the nation rose to meet the challenge of creating a better world. He notes that she casted her vote in this election because “after 106 years in America , through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.”
The story of union organizer and Pilipina Grace Regullano came immediately to my mind. Unlike Anne, Grace, who is in her twenties, had grown cynical and suspicious about electeds and the political process. The enthusiasm of the Obama campaign did not drive her to walk precincts in New Mexico but the fear of a McCain-Palin administration did. So when she landed in New Mexico, she did not immediately leap into the “Yes, We Can” chanting frenzy.
As Obama’s victory came more into view, she witnessed a transformative moment:
“And suddenly, our members turned towards Ms. Irma, who had been sitting quietly in the back, watching the results. She’s one of our retired black members campaigning in New Mexico. Somebody shouted, ‘Ms. Irma’s been waiting for this her whole life!’ And then, somebody started singing the gospel song ‘Change is gonna come’ – and then the whole room was singing it to Ms. Irma….And when I saw the tears streaming silently down Ms. Irma’s face, I also cried.”
For Grace, it wasn’t about Obama but the “break in history” he represented, especially to Ms. Irma who waited her whole life for this moment. Ms. Irma, Anne, and Grace saw in the Obama victory that for those of us who have ever been alone, excluded or isolated, there is a home for all of us. There is hope.
As Obama observed, “…I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to: It belongs to you…so let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.”
As I lift my daughter, who fell asleep from a day of knocking on doors, I begin to cry. Not because of Obama’s victory but the possibility that when she is older she will look back in pride on how she helped create change in America and can do it again one day.
Originally published by the Asian American Action Fund.
John Delloro is the Executive Director of the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute, LACCD and currently sits on the Legal Advisory Board of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) and the Board of Directors of the PWC. He was one of the co-founders of the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California (PWC) and served as the president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA). For the past decade, he also worked as a regional manager/organizer for SEIU 1000, Union of California State Workers, a staff director/organizer for SEIU 399, the Healthcare Workers Union, and an organizer for AFSCME International and HERE 226, the hotel workers union in Las Vegas.