SAN FRANCISCO — Four years ago, my eldest son and I stood with hundreds of people in a crowded ballroom in downtown Oakland where everyone broke into cheers as TV monitors announced that Barack Obama had just been elected president.
We were black, white, Asian, Latino, young and old. Some were in tears.
While people around us celebrated, my son playfully bounced a balloon on his hand. Seeing the boy, a young African American smiled and said to me, “Any way to celebrate.”
We both laughed.
My son was then only nine. He probably didn’t understand completely what was going on.
But that night, he became one of the children of the era of Obama.
Last night, when it became clear that he had won a second term, I gave my other son, who is 7, a hug. He probably also didn’t understand what his Nanay and I were so happy about.
But we were truly happy. The era of Obama just got extended another four years.
Ito ang isang importanteng aral na matagal ko nang alam: Hindi dapat tinitingala bilang Diyos o santo o superhero ang sinumang pinuno.
Ilang ulit na ‘tong pinatunayan sa kasaysayan ng Pilipinas at ng Estados Unidos. At napatunanayan ‘to sa pamumuno ni Barack Obama.
Laking tuwa naming mag-asawa na nanalo siya noong 2008.
Pero kahit kailan, di kami nagkaroon ng ilusyon na magkakaroon ng milagro, ng himala.
Na biglang magbabalik ang kasaganaang nakita namin noong Dekada ‘90.
Na biglang malulutas ang mga problema sa pera ng mga public schools ng mga anak namin.
Na biglang magtatapos ang kahirapan.
Na biglang maglalaho ang rasismo at diskriminasyon.
Malayo pa ang lalakbayin.
This is how I hope my sons would someday remember growing up during the Obama years.
‘Boy, those were tough years. Many people didn’t have jobs. Some of them were Tatay and Nanay’s friends.
‘They liked the president, even though there were things Tatay didn’t like especially during the first term …
‘He thought the president could have been tougher on the people who caused the crisis. Tatay felt he could have pushed harder and sooner on immigration reform.
‘And the drone strikes and the tough foreign policy talk – Tatay hated it. He was disappointed. ‘He grew up in Suharto’s Indonesia and protested American support for the apartheid regime,’ he would say. ‘The president should know better.’
‘Still, he and Nanay were proud to have been part of the America that elected its first African American president. They’re immigrants and well, they were into all that that multi-ethnic and diversity stuff. …
‘But it was not just that…
‘Tatay and Nanay liked Obama for helping fix the health care system by making it accessible to more people, especially the poor. Nanay was a nurse so that was important to her.
‘In fact, Obamacare was actually good for me and my brother. Good thing we didn’t need it after finishing school and starting our careers. But if we did we didn’t need to worry about health insurance. Nanay and Tatay could cover us until we were 26.
‘Like many other parents, Tatay and Nanay were big on education. They planned for it and saved for it. They pushed us to do well. And they got much help from the programs Barack started.
‘Those investments in grants and loans and new research programs and scholarships – they sure made a difference.
‘Times are still tough. Nanay and Tatay never get tired of reminding us of that. But we pulled together and moved forward during the time of Obama…’
My youngest son told us one day last week that one of his classmates warned against voting for Obama.
Why? my wife and I asked.
“Because he wants to allow boys to marry boys, and girls to marry girls,” he answered.
My wife and I looked at each other and smiled.
Nothing wrong with that, we told him. We supported the president’s endorsement of gay marriage. Now, others may disagree, we said. But that’s okay.
I was going to elaborate. But we left it at that. An early lesson in democracy.
In fact, Barack’s support for gay rights is also a lesson – in not relying on a leader for change.
As gay rights leader John Aravosis told the Huffington Post, “In the end what he did was huge. We had to push extremely hard, and I didn’t enjoy that, but in the end we got more than enough for me to support the man for reelection.”
Another activist, Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, put it best, in the same Huffington Post article last week.
“Obama is not going to be the hero,” Aron, who is with the Alliance For Justice, said. “If work needs to be done, we need to do it. We need to be the heroes in our story.”
There are no guarantees. We know that by now. But last night, when Obama won again, we were able to look to the future with a bit more hope and courage.
I felt so good about what was ahead I wrote this Facebook update:
We don’t agree with the drone strikes and the international chest-thumping.
We think you should have been tougher on the people who caused the economic collapse.
We think you should have moved sooner on immigration reform.
You have not been a perfect leader.
But you have helped us move forward.
We thank you for reforming the health care system
… for moving to fix our educational system
… for being a steady and strong leader
… for affirming the rights of gays and lesbians
… for building on your experiences as a community organizer who gave up a prosperous career on Wall Street to serve the poor and blaze a new trail for the country.
There’s still so much work that needs to be done…
I’m happy that my children will continue to grow up in the era of Obama!
On Twitter @Boying Pimentel. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel