Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Election night in Mexico City

I sent this out to family and friends via email, but I've been thinking that maybe it does have a place on the blog, even if it's on a more serious note.

Written on the night of the election:

Election night in Mexico City started off with a 10-person airplane
carrying the minister of the interior, Juan Camilo Mouriño, crashing
two blocks off Reforma, one of the city's biggest streets. This is a
headline akin to "Condoleeza Rice's airplane crashes on the National
Mall." Mouriño is President Felipe Calderon's right-hand man, recently
charged with taking down the narco-traffickers. Sitting in traffic due
to the crash, listening to tense broadcasters on the radio, was a firm
reminder that I wasn't home in California tonight.

My friend's Mexican roommate traded calls back and forth with her
brother as we walked to an Election Night house party with some of our
paisanos. CNN dominated the room, full of chattering Americans, Brits
and Mexicans sipping wine.

The past several weeks, I've explained the American electoral system
quite a few times - with each explanation it seems to make less sense.
My French room mates were very intrigued by the electors ("los grandes
electores" - you have to get a bit creative with translation
sometimes) who supposedly cast these electoral votes for the states.
Then again, some idiosyncracies of other country's systems came to
light, for instance that in Britain, the election takes place and the
new Prime Minister is sworn in the very next day, moving into the
offices as the former Prime Minister frantically packs and heads out
the back door.

The interest from everyone has been keen. A Swedish co-worker said he
thought the whole world should be able to vote in the American
election since it affected everyone - he assured me the world would
never vote Republican. I assured all my friends here that I would be
voting for Barack. A friend's cleaning lady showed up Tuesday morning
and asked, "Si vas a votar por el negrito, verdad?"

Among the Americans, it was all about being from a swing state. My
friend, Catherine, had the most cachet being from Virginia.
California, not so much in the presidential election, although the
three gay guys at the party were closely watching Prop 8.

We nearly ignored the early, crazy-eyed prognosticating of the TV
networks, waiting for real results to come in. Then it hit the screen
- "Obama wins." We checked foxnews.com: "President Obama." We check
the NY Times: "TV Networks call election in favor of Barack Obama" -
perhaps one of the longest and weakest headlines ever to grace their
Web page.
One British woman was a bit nervous about busting open the champagne
just yet, asking, "Didn't you Americans learn anything in 2004?" We'd
had it with the tentative hopefulness though.

Between the weight of our past and the weight of the future challenges
we have to face, this election night is a singular moment of levity
and jubilation. After a campaign it seemed would never end, after so
much anticipation, worry, posturing, analysis, circumspection, I feel
that I can just let go. A burden has been lifted off my shoulders that
I didn't even realize I was carrying.

As I sat in a foreign country, next to a Mexican friend, at last, I
was proud to be an American. Barack gave a little shout out to all us
Americans abroad and we all cheered. Together, we proved America's
strength - that we can change, that we can see the error of our ways
and do what it takes to change them, that we can be a force for good
in the world.

As I face the challenges of the next 100 years - global warming, the
wars, the economy - instead of feeling despair, I feel the history of
America and our accomplishments and culture swelling behind me and my
fellow Americans standing around me. We are innovators, we never give
up, and our country is a place where anything is possible. I hope we
can hold on to that feeling so that I can always leave my country and
be proud to be an American.

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