Last night, I watched as Barack Obama—who I hope will be the first black President of the United States—shed tears onstage as he talked about the death of his grandmother, who is white. On the eve of the election, it was incredibly hard for me to see; I lost both my Chinese grandparents last winter, and my mother’s mother, who was Irish-American, died a few years ago. We heard a lot in the last year about whether or not Obama is or isn’t “black enough”, assuming that a prominent figure NEEDS that sort of racial quorum—to be black, or white—to win the presidency. He has to fall on one side or another of that fence, but what would that have meant to his grandmother?
As an American of mixed race, I’ve floated between two cultures my entire life. Ostensibly, it’s what America is about, but you couldn’t tell by watching this election. Barack Obama is black, to be sure, and it’s amazing that we could have our first black president by tomorrow; but he’s incredibly special to me, not just because He’s Mixed Like Me, but also because I treasure the complicated road that a leader of mixed race will have walked. Obama is black, white, Indonesian, Kansan, Hawaiian; and while he’s not quite any of those things completely, he has had to synthesize an identity from all of that—a consensus identity. Being mixed race doesn’t give you the confidence of being any one thing, which can be hard, but it also frees you from some of the dogma and prejudice; you have to figure out the best things to take away from your cultures and embody those things in your life. Rather that being part of any ethnic group, those groups become part of you.
At my wedding last month, all but one of the five babies running around the venue were of mixed race—Korean, Egyptian, Texan, Mexican, Indonesian, Jewish. It’s not nearly as rare as it seemed to be when I was a kid; rather, it’s become a common expression of what it means to be American. America looks like this now—we all look like this now, to a certain extent—and the look comes with a deeper understanding of diversity—of race, religion, politics and opinions. Barack Obama grew up thinking about these things, and he brings them—for the first time—to the front door of the White House. That’s why, a few minutes ago, I walked into an elementary school (Puerto Rican, Jewish, Dominican) and voted for him.
Whatever drives your decision, please take the opportunity today and vote.