All-American Family

barackposter.jpgMy mother sent me a birthday present. It’s a photo of her two favorite Christmas presents: a life-sized cardboard figure of Barack, and the presence of her extended family. Our family is only rarely all together, but we all convened in Indiana this year: my French brother-in-law, my sister, their French-American
daughter; my gay brother; my mother’s African American second husband ;
my husband, whose parents are Philippino and Parsi, and our children,
who are pan-Asian by blood and New Yorkers by birth. And me, the
midwestern New Yorker. And my mom, of course, the former Kenilworth
debutante turned community organizer and ardent progressive political

We’re all standing on the deck of her house, surrounding Barack, who is wearing a Santa hat (we spent the entire Christmas week changing his headgear – Santa hat, scarf, visor, ball-cap). He looks right at home in the middle of our racially and ethnically mixed group.

That’s the small snapshot of my family. Not in that picture are my dad in Florida (by his count, one of about twelve democrats in his small town) and, spread out over the country, my aunts and uncles and cousins, including a few cousins whose children have been adopted from Korea and Viet Nam. “Post-racial” becomes a much less abstract phrase when your children talk about their Filipina grandmother (“Lola”) to the black man whom they call “Grandpa.”

My family photograph sat on the coffee table looking at me while I watched Barack take the oath of office today, just after 12pm.  Did you notice that when he gave his inaugural address the sun gleamed off his flag pin, making it look like he was wearing some kind of sparkly sheriff badge? Yes indeedy, there’s a new sheriff in town and he’s gonna clean up Dodge City.

His speech, with its sober calls to responsibility and hard work, put elegant nails in the coffin of the Bush administration: he promised (among other things) that government will work in the light of day and that Constitutional principles will not be violated for the sake of expedience – ideas that, after the last eight years, suddenly sound brand-new.

The words that resonated most powerfully for me in that speech were little words: we, us, our. It wasn’t a speech about Barack and all of HIS ideas and HIS accomplishments. His words cast a wide net, brought us all into the problem – and the solution.

My family, with its mix of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and family structure, embodies one aspect of the solution: it’s hard to deny the rights of marriage to your brother; it’s hard to see someone with brown skin as “less than” when that brown-skinned person is your husband, your stepfather, your child, your cousin – or your President.

Like I said in my last post – maybe it’s all going to be okay. And that’s not just the champagne talking.


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3 Responses to All-American Family

  1. Susanbw January 24, 2009 at 3:51 pm #

    This faded debutante thinks that the glorious and unexpected diversity of our family doesn’t seem so outre anymore, now that Barack embodies the best of America wabb (while also being black). That wonderful black stepfather of yours, speaking at the local MLK Day Celebration, told touching stories of growing up “special” in Tuskegee, Alabama, unprepared for the real world of Jim Crow that hurt and stung when encountered. He also held out hope that all the “firsts” made possible by Martin Luther King, culminating with Barack’s election, will signal the LAST of the firsts. Just ordinary to have a black President…or husband, or stepfather, or….


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