What a Day, What a Night!
January 1, 1970Dear Friends,
Yesterday I decided to take a break from my other preoccupations and celebrate this historic week by joining a group of Obama volunteers voter-registering brand new U.S. citizens down at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was the best political experience of my life. If you are considering political engagement, I urge you to find out where new citizens are being sworn in near you, and go help register them to vote!
To give you an idea of the scale of this event, one whole hall of the L.A. convention center filled three times during the course of the day (this happens monthly here) to accommodate all the new citizens being sworn in, plus their families. Several thousand individuals were naturalized yesterday. They came from Korea, India, England, Mexico, Liberia, El Salvador, Cuba, Brazil, Sweden, the Philippines, and on and on and on. Their families greeted them with flowers. The children dressed in their finest. American flags abounded, and when the new citizens emerged they proudly held their new green leather binders with their U.S. citizenship diploma like a degree from the finest university.
Plenty of us were on hand competing to help them register. And as the daughter of a Shanghai-born father of Chinese and English descent who was naturalized the year I was born in America, I was in good company. The volunteers at our huge Obama table included an American astrospace engineer of Indian descent who was naturalized here at the convention center 15 years ago; an all-American actor from New York whose credits include Aaron Sorkin productions; a grandmother and two veteran Democratic activists who have worked too many elections to count; a young Filipina-American former American Airlines flight attendant; and a dozen other volunteers I never met because we were too swamped with new voters. Ours was by far the largest table out on the patio, but we kept company with a smaller group of Filipino volunteers, another from a local get-out-the-vote nonprofit, and red-shirt floaters who were paid per registration by some unnamed agency. Plus, of course, the small McCain table in the corner of the terrace.
Let me tell you, 98% of those emerging new citizens flocked to our table. “Obama!” they chanted, standing three-deep as they filled out the registration forms. Their kids cleaned us out of stickers and bumper stickers by 2pm. One little boy came by around 5 and asked if we had stickers, and when we said no, he held out a John McCain bumper sticker. “You can have it. They gave it to me over there.” He gestured toward the RNC table. “But I don’t want McCain, I only want Obama.”
I registered an English-American who said he’d been in this country for 17 years, but with this election looming he could wait no longer to become a U.S. citizen. A family of Scandinavian-Americans reached for our forms. Grandchildren helped elderly Mexican-Americans with the instructions.
The portraits of America’s families at this event made it clear why Obama’s time has come. One young Salvadoran-American woman with a heart-meltingly gorgeous little boy waited with us for her newly American husband, born in Nigeria. A San Fernando blond man and his Hapa daughter waited for his now Filipina-American wife. Japanese- and Sudanese-born couples. Swedish- and Nicaraguan-born. African-American and Korean-born. You name it. There is no black America OR white America; there is black AND white America, and everything around and in between. At least in Los Angeles, America is marrying into an ever more perfect and expanding union.
Not surprisingly for LA, the majority of the new citizens we registered were of Hispanic descent. If there was any question whether the Hispanic vote would go for Obama, yesterday dismissed it in my mind. They can hardly wait. “OBAMA!” the families chanted in unison. “Si se puede!”
The capper was our encounter with the woman who had manned the McCain table all day. She was of Asian descent, elegant in a gold silk suit and heels. She stopped by our table as she was leaving and asked if we had any stickers. A bit ruefully, she said, “My daughter is for Obama. This is her second election as a voter – democratic both times. I’d have liked to bring her a sticker.”
I hope this woman and her daughter, and the hundreds of new citizens we registered yesterday got home through the traffic last night in time to hear the triumphal speech of the man we all are helping to make history. It was a day to make us all proud Americans.