Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Someone is watching Obama

It turns out that I am destined to listen to American presidential election results on the radio while driving around city streets. Today I was driving out to the post office next to the Honolulu airport to send off some more documentation Vula needs for a visa, and listened to NPR calling the election for Obama while the sun set over this part of the Pacific.

One of the people who will benefit from Obama's second term of presidency is a little New Zealander who is now guaranteed to spend all of his remembered childhood years taking for granted that the president of the USA is Barack Obama. Back in 2008 the US election was held the week before the New Zealand general election, and I spent a few evenings leading up to our election at home delivering Māori party pamphlets to voters on the Māori roll who live in Lower Hutt. (Aue, Māori Party - I had such hopes!) We were both working full time so we drove in the early evenings, Megan driving and reading the list of where Māori roll electors lived, me jumping out at various places to post the pamphlets in various letterboxes. Matiu was three years old, and sat strapped into his carseat while we drove around the network of concrete roads which is his to inherit through our genealogical links to the land underneath. When the time came for Obama's acceptance speech we sped home to Waiwhetū and piled out in time to breathlessly - and, yes, tearily - watch history.

A couple of hours earlier I had left my office at university, where I'd been glued to the updates on the first Obama election, and raced into Matiu's Māori immersion preschool to pick him up. I hurried him along while he slowly plodded around picking up his things... when he asked what the rush was for, I told him "I think Obama is about to be the president." Once he was buckled in and I was in the front seat, he asked what that meant, and I explained it the way anyone would explain such things to a three year old: "America is a big country and in most countries all the grown ups get to decide who's going to be their boss and although lots of different people live in America the boss has always been a white man and today the adults have decided that Obama will be the boss and that's very exciting because he's not white - he's black. So that reminds all of us that anybody can be the boss of the country, not just white men."

The thing about Matiu is that he's Māori and Pākehā through our side, and we have worked hard to ensure he is exposed to his own Māori language and culture and community, but he is also Eritrean from his father's side. It is easy for us to see him as a Māori kid but we are also deeply aware that he is an African kid too, and this is a side which must also be nurtured. As we drove down the hill to pick up his Mum, my sister Megan, from work so we could head out for another night of pamphleting, we both listened to the radio coverage and they announced that Obama was most likely going to be the president. I was crying - tears flowing down my face while I edged us down the hill towards parliament - and heard a small voice from the back seat. A small, proud voice.

"I'm black too."


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