She’s tremendously tall and if a thousand and one photos can be believed, a fantastic hugger.
I’ll save the first-person review of those hugs from those who’ve experienced it directly, but in one powerful speech filled with relateable stories, on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention I felt embraced again into the compelling national story of America: a place where despite modest beginnings and with a few key opportunities a person can, with hard work and luck, flourish and raise a family or follow your bliss.
This is the American Dream that’s worked for so many people. It’s also the Dream that’s been tantalizingly kept out of reach from so many other Americans by the powerful and well-connected. Our national psyche has always teetered between expanding rights and opportunities to more people, and shutting down access and equality. Nowhere has that divide been sharper in the past several years than in the contrast between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
Having imbibed much more of the Republican National Convention (and its dreaded precursor, the hate-filled primaries), I was beginning to wonder if I’d imagined the country where my parents came as students.
They came to study at public universities as overseas graduate students. In her twenties, my mom came from near-tropical Taiwan to encounter cool fall days at the University of Nebraska. The women in her dorm towered over her. They saw her thin blouses and skirts, her slight frame literally 98 pounds soaking wet, and lent my mom warm sweaters and coats so she wouldn’t freeze during the icy winter. My dad went to Austin, Texas (woohoo, Longhorns!) direct from Taipei, Taiwan and spent some time waiting tables in the Catskills for money on summer vacations to help pay for college and graduate school.
My parents both worked as teachers (at the state university) and then my mother took an adventurous leap in the 1980s into public service as a federal employee making strategic maps for the Bush I administration. (Yes, as a cartographer who made maps for the military, she had a security clearance and I’m pretty sure she had to submit several years of tax returns in order to be fully vetted — JUST SAYIN’ MITT ROMNEY WHO WANTS TO BE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF.) I in turn got a great education at local public schools and attended a land grant university (part of a unique public-private hybrid) and then the nation’s top public university, the flagship of the University of California system. My family has been lucky enough to live the American Dream, and we are grateful for that chance. It’s partly why I fight so hard to make sure the things I enjoyed are still in place for the young people coming up after me. My parents worked hard, they played by the rules, they urged me to shoot higher and farther than they themselves could go.
But during the Republican primary we heard a lot of negativity. The sick should just give up and die if they weren’t “wise” enough to buy health insurance. College students who want to pay tuition or start a business after they graduate should just “ask their parents” for a loan. People who don’t look American (whatever that is) should just be made so uncomfortable that they “self-deport.”
On and on and on. The GOP primary in particular was a festival of cruel indifference and selfishness. I kept thinking, can this country really be so cold-hearted? Are Americans the same people who opened their hearts and wallets to people who suffered in New Orleans, after 9/11, or the terrible earthquake in Haiti? Do we only help others in times of great distress, or are we there when our neighbors need to borrow the lawn mower or have someone watch the kids because grandma had to go into the hospital suddenly? I thought I knew America. I thought I knew the answer. But the behavior and language of Republicans has made me wonder if I really know America.
So I was THRILLED to hear Michelle Obama remind us of our true national character — we are a generous and community-loving people. We respect fairness and hard work. Every moment that has been a shining example of our dedication to equality, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a moment where we’ve expanded rights, set clear boundaries for corporate interests apart from human interests, and embraced new things without fear.
Michelle Obama reminded us of who she and Barack are at heart. And in doing so, she reminded us to look into our own stories and see reflected back in them the America we know and love. Thank you for reminding me why I’m a proud Democrat, with great values and and an even greater mission to build upon what so many others have before me to perfect this union.