As a very late child of the boomer generation, I was too young to understand and appreciate the 60’s. I remember the 70’s vaguely, and the national politics of that era not at all.
But I do remember growing up as one of the only Asian kids in an all-white suburb of Chicago, and learning very deeply the lessons of being the Other. Even though my family was very fortunate and strong, even though my parents were the hardest working people I knew, and provided my brothers and me with every advantage and comfort they could, while instilling in us an appreciation for hard work, intelligence, reason, compassion, and joy in life, the simple fact was they could not protect me from the consequences of being half-Korean in a culture that had no room and very little tolerance for difference.
School was the place where I learned many, many wonderful things, but it was also where I learned in 4th grade that when four 5th graders beat me until I couldn’t stand, and then kicked me as I lay in the snow, calling me “gook”, and “nip”, and “chink”, that the beating was nothing compared to the shame of looking up and seeing a crowd of other kids watch and do nothing to help me. The alienation of that moment was a lesson I will never forget.
It was a lesson to be repeated and reinforced in a thousand ways, which I will not recount here, but thankfully my children have never known one day when they were derided, or ignored, or abused because of their heritage. I truly believed this lesson of my childhood has become weaker over time; that the politics of hatred have faded from the national discourse, and we were truly emerging from the long, angry night.
This presidential campaign has been the most exciting political event I have ever seen, and I feel deeply fortunate to have been able to witness it. I was impressed by Obama from the very beginning, and I was even excited by the best candidates from both parties. They offered a clear hope for changing the disastrous course the Bush Administration has taken the country.
I had already decided that Barack Obama was by far the best candidate for president, for reasons other, far better writers than I have expressed, but, despite the closeness of the race, I felt there was little I could add to the conversation. However, since John McCain has chosen to revitalize his campain through demagoguery, anger, and specious, hateful, lies, I now have something to say.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said “A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension.” But I have found that the mind can all too easily relax into familar patterns of thought. America has matured and learned many things, but the lessons of compassion and understanding must be continually learned. I may not have understood the larger political issues of my childhood, but I know what I lived through. America has grown, but as a nation we have learned through great pain that fear, anger, and hate remain powerful forces in the world, both abroad and sadly, as the past few days of Republican campaigning have shown, at home. Out of desperation, McCain is grasping at the darkest elements of our nature, and thereby threatens to erase not only Obama’s chance to be President, but decades of national growth towards the idea that we are all created equal.
Through condescending and cynical tactics, McCain and Palin have shamelessly tried to manipulate the “Joe Six-Packs” and the “Hockey Mom’s” of the nation, to say that they understand “Main Street” America. But as this speech by former United Mine Workers President Richard Trumka, who is now secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO shows, this only serves to draw a false distinction between the “elite” and the “common”, to exacerbate and antagonize, and create divisions.
The tactics of fear and hate must not be allowed to regain their sway. We have a chance to take a brilliant step forward as a nation, and given the current political and financial crises we face, we must call upon our highest ideals, our bravest virtues to meet them. I believe one candidate represents our best hope for leading our continued growth as a nation and a society. Please join me, and help elect Barack Obama as our next President.