Thursday, October 30, 2008

American Stories

American Stories

Of the countless words Barack Obama has uttered since he opened his campaign for president on an icy Illinois morning in February 2007, a handful have kept reverberating in my mind:
“For as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible.”
Perhaps the words echo because I’m a naturalized American, and I came here, like many others, seeking relief from Britain’s subtle barriers of religion and class, and possibility broader than in Europe’s confines.
Perhaps they resonate because, having South African parents, I spent part of my childhood in the land of apartheid, and so absorbed as an infant the humiliation of racial segregation, the fear and anger that are the harvest of hurt — just as they are, in Obama’s words, “the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.”
Perhaps they speak to me because I live in New York and watch every day a miracle of civility emerge from the struggles and fatigue of people drawn from every corner of the globe to the glimmer of possibility at the tapering edge of the city’s ruler-straight canyons.
Perhaps they move me because the possibility of stories has animated my life; and no nation offers a blanker page on which to write than America.
Or perhaps it’s simply because those 22 words cleave the air with the sharp blade of truth.
Nowhere else could a 47-year-old man, born, as he has written, of a father “black as pitch” and a mother “white as milk,” a generation distant from the mud shacks of western Kenya, raised for a time as Barry Soetoro (his stepfather’s family name) in Muslim Indonesia, then entrusted to his grandparents in Hawaii — nowhere else could this Barack Hussein Obama rise so far and so fast.
It’s for this sense of possibility, and not for grim-faced dread, that people look to America, which is why the Obama campaign has stirred such global passions.
Americans are decent people. They’re not interested in where you came from. They’re interested in who you are. That has not changed.
But much has in the last eight years. This is a moment of anguish. The Bush presidency has engineered the unlikely double whammy of undermining free-market capitalism and essential freedoms, the nation’s twin badges.
American luster is gone. The American idea has, in Joyce Carol Oates’s words, become a “cruel joke.” Americans are worrying and hurting.
So it is important to step back, from the last machinations of this endless campaign, and think again about what America is.
It is renewal, the place where impossible stories get written.
It is the overcoming of history, the leaving behind of war and barriers, in the name of a future freed from the cruel gyre of memory.
It is reinvention, the absorption of one identity in something larger — the notion that “out of many, we are truly one.”
It is a place better than Bush’s land of shadows where a leader entrusted with the hopes of the earth cannot find within himself a solitary phrase to uplift the soul.
Multiple polls now show Obama with a clear lead. But nobody can know the outcome and nobody should underestimate the immense psychological leap that sending a black couple to the White House would represent.
What I am sure of is this: an ever more interconnected world, where financial chain reactions spread with the virulence of plagues, thirsts for American renewal and a form of American leadership sensitive to humanity’s tied fate.
I also know that this biracial politician, the Harvard graduate who gets whites because he was raised by them, the Kenyan’s son who gets blacks because it was among them that mixed race placed him, is an emblematic figure of the border-hopping 21st century. He is the providential mestizo whose name — O-Ba-Ma — has the three-syllable universality of some child’s lullaby.
And what has he done? What does his experience amount to? Does his record not demonstrate he’s a radical? The interrogation continues. It’s true that his experience is limited.
But Americans seem to be trusting what their eyes tell them: temperament trumps experience and every instinct of this man, whose very identity represents an act of reconciliation, hones toward building change from the center.
Earlier this year, at the end of a road of reddish earth in western Kenya, I found Obama’s half-sister Auma. “He can be trusted,” she said, “to be in dialogue with the world.”
Dialogue, between Americans and beyond America, has been a constant theme. Last year, I spoke to Obama, who told me: “Part of our capacity to lead is linked to our capacity to show restraint.”
Watching the way he has allowed his opponents’ weaknesses to reveal themselves, the way he has enticed them into self-defeating exhaustion pounding against the wall of his equanimity, I have come to understand better what he meant.
Stories require restraint, too. Restraint engages the imagination, which has always been stirred by the American idea, and can be once again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What's Going On in America

What a time to be in America. Change is coming. Ted Stevens of Alaska who has been senator for almost as long as I have been alive was just convicted for lying and accepting bribes. Barack Obama, son of an African is poised to become President. The people are hurting and there is fear and there is uncertainty even in the heartland where you can easily view the horizon 50 miles away.

Fear and uncertainty trump racism that is native to each one of us. Those professional pollsters were totally wrong: given a choice between a continuation of failed policies and a young, black man who represented a new direction, Americans would overwhelmingly take a chance and break away from their deep-seated biases.

The situation had to get this bad for the majority to realize the consequences were too dire, the stakes too far-reaching to rely upon a cynical choice that was made to appeal to our baser nature. Palin, it turns out was a disastrous choice. Whatever heroism McCain had was completely canceled by whatever flippant qualities the Alaska governor had. For all her observations about Putin rearing his menace from the land mass visible from her state, Palin came woefully short in making the case that Obama was a Marxist, as if the bogus idea of trickle-down economics was somehow less dangerous to the health of the world financial system.

Oil prices are plummeting from decreased demand, less vehicles and appliances are being sold, everyone’s starting to save. Heady days are ahead.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I don’t think we are anywhere near the bottom yet. Houses will continue to lose value, retirement and college funds will get smaller, many more will become unemployed. But just as America led the way to this global mess I have no doubt that America will also lead the way to worldwide recovery.

Americans will spend less and work harder. Their most fearsome thought is to bequeath a less secure, less prosperous future to their children.

The military budget will be slashed. The mythical dividends that peace paradoxically brings with crushing armed superiority will give way to massive investments in science and technology which will result in energy independence, a cleaner environment, a healthier population and a vastly more efficient financial system.

Waste will be minimized. There will be a decrease in the consumption of food, fuel, electricity, clothing and recreational activities. There will follow a national belt-tightening movement that will encourage parents to focus on making their children become more competitive in the sciences and math. There will be less attention to sports.

Tobacco and alcohol consumption will decrease, there will be less obesity. The engines of production will be on full throttle. As a result, tax revenues will soar, wasteful spending will plummet; there will be an unprecedented surge in savings accounts. Critical infrastructure investments will be made.

We had to catch a glimpse of the abyss, we needed to be jolted into reforming our ways, we had to be rudely reminded that we would only be able to get out of this together. I am certain America will rise to the challenge.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Puring, 1940-2008

Florencia Olino Aguimli, born October 28, 1940 in Urdaneta, Pangasinan died in her home in Quezon City on October 11, 2008. She had a cerebellar infarction 6 weeks earlier. Puring was recruited by my grandmother in 1956 and began staying with my parents shortly after they got married in 1958. She stayed with us ever since.

She met Pepito Aguimli from Abra who worked as a security guard in St. Theresa’s College during those times when she would take my sister to school. They got married and had 2 daughters Bernadette and Arlene.

Puring was the ultimate “all-around”. She wouldn’t be afraid to collect rent from tenants, pay bills, buy produce from the market, adjust waistlines and extend the hems of our trousers, accompany us to Baguio where she would cook delightful meals… had she acquired a visa to the US, she would have gladly followed us and would have taken care of us.

Margarita “Mans” Suarez who cooked for us for forty years and her husband Pepito predeceased her. Along with her daughters, and 2 grandchildren she is survived by us, my parents, my brothers and sisters, Angel “Boy” Suarez, Monina Simbahan and Irene Simbahan.

We are all a sum of the love and care given us by other people. We wouldn’t be who we are were it not for God’s grace to enable others to serve us. Puring was always there and I can’t remember a moment when she failed me or my family. Whenever I would give her a present, a token of how much I appreciated her, her tears would flow unfailingly, as if she was undeserving of gratitude.

This photo was taken when she accompanied us to a resort. So long as Puring was present, you could be assured of a smooth holiday. She was up the earliest and would go to bed last. She was tireless.

Eternal rest grant unto Puring, O Lord.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Winner of the Debate

It is not surprising to learn that 40% of registered voters believe that Sarah Palin won the debate. The election of the US President depends upon the results in a few, key states so Oklahomans for example never see political ads and presidential candidates rarely stop by because the voting pattern of the state is a foregone conclusion.

So it doesn’t matter if a candidate makes a complete fool of him/herself for roughly 40% of the electorate who can be depended upon to deliver their votes for a specific party. The 5-7% who are undecided will spell the difference.

John McCain is a hero with a long and distinguished career in public service. McCain should have been elected President in 2000 and the US would not be in such a mess right now. But because he stood against the right wing moralists of his party and refused to pander to intolerant bigots who thrived on division, the better candidate lost and we have only begun to reap the seeds of arrogance and stubbornness.

Choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate, considering melanoma can metastasize any moment is a slap to our faces. I personally expected more from a hero. To cave in at the summit of your vocation in order to keep your base happy at such a critical moment is a major, major disappointment.

Palin gives us the same, tired, dated talking points that successfully ushered a Republican era. Higher taxes from the Democrats--even if only those making more than $250,000 a year will be affected, is a bogus argument that has flown only because so many have been fooled into thinking that they belong to the upper class. Where will the bailout money come from now? Surely not from the multiple tax cuts Republicans have enacted that have benefited the wealthy. Paying taxes is an unpleasant reality but we all must do our part to maintain the bureaucracy and infrastructure which enables us to make a living.

With the extra money from taxes avoided, many of us were lulled into maxing out our credit cards and we spent and spent on SUVs, vacations, electronic appliances and luxurious homes without making ourselves more competitive, irresponsibly thinking the happy days were here forever. While we partied, foreign students took advantage of our excellent schools and lapped-up the unbelievable amount of educational opportunities that most of us took for granted.

Palin talks about the war in Iraq and deceitfully accuses Obama of surrendering to Islamic extremists. I just wonder, 20 years ago when a bomb destroyed Pan Am 103 and crashed in Lockerbie killing 270 people, what the consequences would have been if George HW Bush ordered the invasion of Libya, given that Gaddafi whom Reagan referred to as the “mad dog of the Middle East” was a Dictator-Tyrant who wantonly murdered political opponents and acknowledged he possessed weapons of mass destruction.

I wonder if 4100 American lives and a trillion dollars would have justified an invasion that satisfies the invasion-criteria that determined the Iraq invasion CONSIDERING Secretary of State Rice just visited Libya where relations have normalized.

Palin calls these times “tumultuous” and it certainly requires leaders who will not simply wink and repeat talking points in a folksy manner and instead provide replies which are the result of serious reflection.