An Open Letter To Former President Barack Obama

Your presidency has shown all of us, especially me, what a beacon of hope from Capitol Hill looks like.
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Illustration by Petr Kratochvil

First and foremost, thank you for your service to this country. I became a United States citizen under your term. I am not sure who in your staff picked out the picture for your cardboard cutout at the ceremony but kudos to them, it was a great picture of you. A lot went through my mind as I held up my right arm to swear my allegiance to this great nation alongside hundreds of other lucky individuals. Some people cried. Some people laughed. I was somber. I now bore the great honor of upholding our liberty and freedom. An exclusive member onboard this amazing human experiment called the American experiment. My experiences leading up to this moment weren’t joyous. There was a plethora of moments where my family and I could have been ripped apart by the greater forces at work. Losing everything, including each other.

Photo by Joel Alcaraz

Mr. Obama, do you know what a legacy is? Of course you do, but bear with me. Some people see a legacy as a garden where you plant seeds you will never see grow. I like that expression quite a lot actually. There is a lot of fear out there in the world right now. The peaceful transition of power that occurred today was executed under baited breaths. You ran your campaign on hope. I lived off hope. I was smuggled across the border as a child. For 12 years my mother and I lived undocumented. She’d listen to the local radio every day before going out to make sure there hadn’t been any deportation raids in the area. Still, our journey to the grocery store was always met with trepidation. Oftentimes we didn’t have enough to eat, endless weeks of just eating ramen and eggs for lunch and dinner. Mr. Obama, I can’t even begin to explain to you how poor we were in that little trailer I called home. My father had the only belt in the house! My thrift store pants never fit me because they were always too big. I was a small, skinny boy. One day I decided I was tired of always holding on to my jeans with one hand, so I cut the electrical cord off a broken appliance one night and turned it into a belt. High fashion!

I’ve seen the ugly side of our society. My mother crying in the middle of the store as some security guard frisked her because the owner “saw” her steal. Singled out and harassed by local police just for driving while brown. The faces of resigned pity as my father carried me in his arms out of the hospital waiting room in silent shame, denied because I had no insurance. I’d been injured, weeks had passed, and the pain still made me cry in the middle of the night. My father was furious at the receptionist because she wouldn’t even let him borrow a wheelchair just to take me to the car. A local soothsayer managed to heal my injury. My dad made me a makeshift crutch for the interim. School wasn’t any better. I can still remember the brown kids and white kids fighting with each other on the playground waving Mexican and American flags at each other like lances. I am proud to say I never gave up hope for fear. My family came to this country to find the American Dream. This was all before you took office, Mr. Obama.

The gears of bureaucracy work ever so slowly. At last, my mother and I had permanent residency. The first thing my parents did was sign me up for health and dental insurance. I had terribly crooked teeth. As a result, I rarely ever spoke up in class, spending most of my days behind a book inside the library. I still remember jumping up for joy when I was told I was going to get braces while most kids languished at such a thought. The greater forces at work still didn’t relent on our family. The climb to the Promised Land is not without its tragedies. My uncle was murdered. My mother fell into a severe depression becoming an addict to the bottle. My father almost took his life. My siblings cried relentlessly into the night as I held them trying to comfort them in our darkest hour. Our family was falling apart and I held it all together, promising everyone that things would get better, to have hope. No one was going to save us. No one cared enough. I had to show my family a better way.

I put myself to work with nothing but hope in my heart. I enrolled in AP classes got straight A’s. Became President of my sophomore class. Vice President of our class for the next two years. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to go out there and campaign. Well I am sure you can imagine! I meet with those in the community often left out of the conversation Latinos, nerds, and the silent majority. I won my first Presidential campaign against the establishment! Who could have imagined this poor nerdy boy with an electrical cord for a belt would have won against the most popular kids in school? Our democracy is such an intriguing funny little thing.

You became my President in 2008 during the height of the Great Recession. Your victory, our victory was bittersweet. Prop 8 passed and marriage equality was banned from California. I was closeted in high school. Yes, my Lord decided that I also had to be born gay on top of everything else. The stacks weren’t set high enough apparently, which just meant I had more to prove. Nevertheless with great pride I graduated as Valedictorian and got into my dream school, UCLA. I graduated UCLA with honors. I saw marriage equality come into fruition. The Affordable Care Act changed my life as well. I go to the doctor periodically without fear of rejection. Counseling changed my life. I feel more at peace with myself. All of my siblings have excelled in school and now attend college. My mother has hope once more. She no longer drinks, instead spends her day bragging to strangers about her children. My father continues to toil in the field but is content that his legacy will certainly outlive and outshine him thanks to his sacrifice. I lived between borders but I finally feel like I have a space in this great nation. I have a great career and a myriad of opportunities. I earn more than my father who works in the fields. I’ve jumped drastically up the ladder of social mobility. And oh boy I’m not stopping here.

Your presidency has shown all of us, especially me, what a beacon of hope from Capitol Hill looks like. Wolves and foreign beasts will undoubtedly trespass upon your garden at night trying to destroy your legacy. Take hark, knowing that I will be a sworn protector of your vision. If they burn everything down know that me and countless others will gladly rebuild, and rebuild, and rebuild, and rebuild. I’ve lived in an era of fear, but I was never consumed by it even when I had nothing. Your vision further inspires me to keep climbing. To move forward even if it feels like the whole world is about to collapse. You were right. It is up to us. They say God is constantly creating the world moment by moment. This is our moment to protect creation. And we will do it with such grace, openness, and generosity like you have shown us. We the people.

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