It is Election Day in the United States. I am surprised at how excited I actually am. It feels like it is my wedding day! I am an Iranian who became an American twelve years ago. I have always been a democrat. I remember I was in graduate school when Jesse Jackson with his Rainbow Coalition (sounds nostalgically like an old Motown band) ran for president and even though I was not yet a citizen I wore his badge.
I admired Jesse Jackson’s oratory skills and his liberal platform suited my youthful idealism. Back then no one, including Jesse, doubted that he would lose. America was not ready for a black president. Now she is. And I, a new American, who comes from Iran, who feels like she belongs to the planet, who thinks patriotism is silly, who considers herself a post-feminist feminist, who dreams in two languages, who is a Shiite turned atheist, have never been prouder.
Never mind that America’s readiness for Obama is largely due to the fact that George W. Bush was the most incompetent president in the history of this nation. Never mind that her readiness for an African-American comes from the fact that the economy is in the most difficult crises of the past century. Never mind that the Republican ticket is weak and lacks vision. Never mind that Obama has much more money than his opponent.
The truth is that America is changing. It is changing both demographically and ideologically thanks to new Americans like me! New Americans, who think globally and reject the kind of patriotism that is blind to the welfare of the world. New Americans who refuse racial and gender prejudice not only because they find it unjust but simply because they find it passé, obsolete.
When Obama wins later today, as I am sure he will, it is this new notion of what it means to be an American that will win. We who came here not on old ships to Ellis Island but to Kennedy Airport, on Jumbo jets, fleeing new and old forms of injustice. We who came not because we wanted to forget who we were but to remember the good in it, to preserve and nurture the best of ourselves, cannot help but feel elated. When Obama wins today our happily and finally restored selves will win.
I remember taking the oath of citizenship in Faneiul Hall in Boston. I was not too gung-ho about it. I felt like someone, exiled from her motherland that had little choice but to take the citizenship of the country in which her future was to take place. I was becoming an American not for romantic but for pragmatic reasons.
At the end of the ceremony I had tears rolling down my cheeks. That day too I was proud of being an American. I was proud because I stood there with hundreds of other new Americans of every color and creed, who had mostly fled difficult lives and tyrannical governments, and listened to the judge give the most moving speech. A speech that welcomed us as who we were and celebrated our differences and our myriad of origins.
The judge, whose name I do not recall, spoke to my heart. He told us that we had not abandoned our cultures nor our motherlands but rather we had come to a place were in our very many-layered unity we could celebrate them. We could in this young nation bring out the best of our old countries.
That day as I took the oath to become an American I was proud of being an Iranian. That feeling, that happy possibility to unite the East and West that has always been in me was the best gift that America has given me. That optimism that we can remain who we are while striving to be something more is the best characteristic of America: her ‘defining truth’.
Obama embodies that optimism.
That is why today I am excited, proud and happy. Finally I can be sure that what I felt that day in Faneuil Hall and who I am reflects the true face of a new America. Today I can tell my children whose names are not anglicized, whose great grandfather was also named Hussein that I became an American because in America and only in America you can be whoever you want to be without denouncing who you once where without changing the name given to you by your mother.
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