Obama Faces an Auspicious Beginning

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on January 19, 2009, at politicsunlocked.com

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Four Faces on the Wall

While I was visiting with friends over the holidays – and being treated to delicious homemade tamales – the conversation eventually turned to President-elect Barack Obama.  My friend’s entire family was very excited about Obama, especially since one member of this Mexican-American household had recently taken a position in Washington D.C., working in the Congressional Office of Representative Linda Sanchez.  Soon, one of the children appeared, proudly showing an autographed picture of Mr. Obama.

My friend explained that each generation of the family had placed a portrait on the wall.

Older Mexican Americans, she continued, traditionally have a picture of the PopeCatholicism is the majority religion in Mexico and much of Latin America, and the Mexican-American community maintains their Catholic identity in the United States.  In fact, the immigrant communities in the U.S. have continued to embrace Catholicism, while many in the general population have lessened their bonds with Church traditions.

The second picture was of President John F. Kennedy.  For those old enough to have experienced the election of the first Catholic President of the United States, Kennedy represents the elevation of the Catholic minority in the United States to the mainstream.  Kennedy was also a charismatic orator remembered for inspiring calls to service, guiding the United States though the risk of nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis and for proposing to send a man to the moon within ten years.

The somewhat younger generation had placed a portrait of former President Ronald Reagan.  It was during Reagan’s second term that immigration reform legislation allowed millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally to file for legal status and, eventually, citizenship.

The “Amnesty” program, as it was called, offered millions of Mexican Americans, and other undocumented residents living in the United States for at least five years, improved legal and social status and economic opportunity.  Many of the political achievements of the Latino communities in the United States date from this period, as those who had remained politically quiet, gained a voice and seat at the table in American politics.  Reagan’s passionate belief in a “new dawn” of individual opportunity resonated with our new citizens as it did with Americans on Main Street.

These esteemed figures present very different worldviews, but they are all deeply revered by their followers.

The fourth picture on the wall was none other than Barack Obama.

But is it a surprise that Barack Obama is so honored, even before taking office?  Like the other three, the President-elect moved audiences worldwide with his charisma and eloquence, addressing our common problems with faith and vision.

To many, Obama’s election represented, in itself, the rise of the underdog, despite challenges, to the heights of possibility.  Seeing themselves in Obama, children of the world are looking at what this man accomplished and seeing that any individual can strive to greatness.

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