From Africa to Hawai’i and the World

Why is everybody crying?

This morning, as I watched Barack Hussein Obama take the oath of office to become the 44th President of the United States, I cried. I saw images of many other people crying, men and women, of many different races.

Could it be that we are so moved by the unbelievable specter of a man of African heritage becoming the leader of the most powerful country in the world? Or perhaps we are all so relieved to finally see the end of a painful and embarrassing chapter of our history?

Or is it just that for the first time, many of us felt that we truly do belong in this country?

When I reflect on the journey of so many of our ancestors and honored elders of all nations who worked so hard to build this country, defend this country, and yes, to take a stand against racism and bigotry at great personal risk, I am in awe. I am in awe of their courage and their fidelity.

I was a little girl living in Washington, D. C. during the March on Washington of August, 1963. I was way too young to fully understand what was taking place, but I remember walking hand in hand down many city blocks singing “We Shall Overcome”.

I remember the day my brother and I got dressed up for a visit to the nearby Glen Echo Amusement Park. I remember that our mom, having been told that we would not be welcome inside because of our brown skins, took us back home.

I remember wondering why we couldn’t go to the local swimming pool.

I remember the first time one of my classmates in grade school called me “a nigger”.

I remember all the times in Hawai’i that I was told that I was “very pretty for a colored girl”.

I remember all the times in Honolulu that I arrived to see an apartment, available only a few minutes before, only to be told that it was “just rented”.

I remember feeling that the inequities and problems I dealt with weren’t even recognized by most other people.

I remember being made to feel as if this country were not my home.

And today we see a man, the son of an immigrant from Kenya and a white woman, born in Hawai’i, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, who has a sister who is half Asian-American, being recognized as the leader of this country. He ran a campaign not as an African-American candidate, not as a mixed-race American candidate, but as a highly intelligent, articulate visionary. He brings with him a beautiful, strong and highly educated wife and two darling children.

We share African and Hawaiian roots.

I didn’t realize until the night of the election what it would feel like to have people of every race under the sun vote for a presidential candidate of African descent. I cried then as I did this day, for all those times I felt invisible in this country. And because I am finally at home.

I, Too, Sing America
by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.