Notes On The Eve Of Day One

Barack Obama was born in Hawai'i only two years after my father's generation voted for statehood, and that small fact illustrates the deep emotional cross-currents I am caught in over his inauguration.

On November 4th, when the TV pundits called the election for Obama, my two sons danced around the room in joy. Lourdes and I hugged, and then began to weep. Our boys stared. They already understand color lines, but they will never know how strange it was that we made a biracial Black man from Hawai'i the iconic face of hope and progress and change, then elected him president.

And yet Hawai'i is a conquered land, whose civil rights moment -- the moment when cultural change, social integration, and political enfranchisement converged -- came when a similar swelling of its darker-skinned classes voted in 1959 to give up their right to self-determination.

My father calls himself a pragmatist who voted for Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush twice each, but in Obama, he may have recognized the same kind of historic decision he faced as 24-year old. When he made up his mind, he didn't hesitate. My family and friends assumed I was long past the point of deciding, and I made a good show of it, but I hemmed and hawed and fussed until the end.

I finally decided that I wanted to stand with the arrival of the new majority. I wanted to join with millions in flipping a big bird to those who insisted this country was "center-right". No, I wanted to say, November 4th showed we are progressive-left. Perhaps even my father.

Still I couldn't get the words of Rosa Clemente -- the 36 year-old Green Party vice-presidential candidate who was for many of us just as much a symbol of hope and progress and change -- out of my head. "If we become the majority," she told me last summer, "then we're going to have more people like us put into these positions from really moving us towards justice."

As we look at who Obama has brought in to his administration thus far, I'm struck by the notion that perhaps even he doesn't yet recognize the transformative possibilities of the new majority that elected him.

Cornel West said last March, "I told Obama that when he wins -- which I think he will -- I will celebrate for one day, I'll breakdance in the morning and party in the afternoon. But the next day, I'll become one of his major critics."

When the flags are hoisted and that beautiful sea of hues gathers on the Mall and that biracial Black man from Hawai'i raises his hand to take an oath, call me fucking emo but I am sure I will cry again.

Onto this body of Barack Obama we have projected all possibility, and the faith that we are moving toward answers. And yet Obama also materializes the same question that has haunted people of color on American soil -- the lands of native peoples -- since long before W.E.B. Dubois articulated it over a century ago: how does it feel to still be a problem? Does our desire for hope and change and progress lead us further from the actual thought and practice of justice, or closer?

And yet if we really care about these questions, we will never have the luxury of doing nothing.

This moment will not mark the end of our struggles over questions of nation and race, nor will it mark the end of our Duboisian double consciousness. It's the beginning of something -- I'm not sure what -- but it's something that we, the new majority, must write.

This post was commissioned for the Asian Law Caucus's new blog Arc of 72, where you can read other Asian/Pacific Islander perspectives on the inauguration.