Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Blessing On Us All

I woke this morning at 6 am wanting to turn on the BBC to see the results in the US elections, but almost afraid. My mobile phone beeped at me and I found a simple message from my daughter in New York. "Obama wins!" As I spoke to her on the phone we both were thrilled with the event. I listened to his acceptance speech and found for the first time in many, many years tears in my eyes, tears of joy and hope from the words of a politician. Any of you who have read my note on my blog about what I feel is important in life know that politicians are not, on the whole, my favourite people. But the succession of Barack Hussein Obama to the United States presidency is of vital importance to the world as well as to the American people.

I was born in the US and was, in many ways, the quintessential American. My mother was a British war bride and my father was from an old Scots/Irish family who had emigrated to North America before the revolution. But to be honest, even when I was so very young there were things that made me quite uncomfortable about the United States. Not the least of these was the fact that in California in the 60's and 70's my interest in learning Spanish, in reading Spanish literature, was considered suspect. As has become even more the case, more recent immigrants to the US were resented. It was not considered to be useful or desirable to speak a language other than English, an attitude that as someone who considered a career in translation, I thought was terribly short-sighted and frankly rather odd. I also was a serious opponent to the war in Vietnam, a military action that I felt was nothing short of disastrous for the place of the US in the world. When I moved to Canada to continue my university education, university in California having become too expensive for me, I was enchanted by the completely different attitude towards immigrants and their heritage in Canada and I decided, having the possibility to immigrate there, to stay.

The Canadians, at least in the 70's and 80's when I was living there, were much more aware of the fact that they were a country of immigrants than the Americans were. If a school had a certain percentage of children from an ethnic group enrolled, lessons in that language were required to be made available to these children after school hours. There was no question that French and English were the official languages, but there was an acceptance and understanding that Canada was a mosaic of many languages and cultures, unlike the attitude south of the border that if someone came to the US they came to become an American and should change and lose the past that had made them what they were when they emigrated to the US. I was much more comfortable with that idea and Diaa and I used to joke that we the absolute perfect Canadians, a Sudanese/Egyptian immigrant and an American/British immigrant. I took Canadian citizenship in the mid-70's with no qualms whatsoever.

Yesterday Americans remembered that the essence of the United States is that it is a country of immigrants...everyone there has come at some point in their short history from somewhere else. Now this is true of a good part of the world, including the British, French, and Germans and even the Egyptians...the history of mankind is a history of migration and conquest. But the United States is a young country and it is so totally a country of immigrants from diverse backgrounds. It's time for the country to remember this. Barack Hussein Obama is the true American, black/white/European/Kenyan/Muslim/Christian.

This morning, along with much of the world, I feel hope for the United States. This morning I feel comfortable with my American past, proud of it for the first time in many, many years. I pray for the safety and success of President Obama and Vice President Biden. Watching the two families embracing on the podium in Chicago live on the BBC this morning I could only think how this is truly a marvelous opportunity for healing in this country that has so much possibility for good, but that all too often has used its power without thought or conscience. Barack comes from the Arab "Baraka" or blessing. May he be one.

copyright 2008 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani