January 30, 2009

First Person:

A country that now dares to change

By Diana Murray Watts

Diana Murray Watts, of Monterrey, Mexico, covered her first U.S. presidential inauguration and came away with the following insights.

WASHINGTON — Every land encompasses the thoughts and dreams of its citizens. When born to a certain country, a large part of one’s personal identity inevitably becomes influenced by that past. And when there is a loyal trust in the national leaders, self-confidence dwells more firmly on those grounds: For when a leader succeeds, the people also feel that success.

The feelings of American hardship could be explained based on the previous association. With a president who with his stubbornness kept the U.S. immersed in the Iraq War and neglected the changing course in the economy, Americans soon ceased to see George W. Bush as their leader: Instead he was the source of all problems. This did not help the American identity. It began to falter, and soon many Americans opted for what seemed to me to be either apathy or self-pity.

Back in my childhood, I thought of the U.S. as a lavish land of wealth and opportunity. I used to admire the tall buildings, the clean streets, the endless array of shops of all kinds... a structure so wealthy and organized that made it seem invincible.

But in the past years, America has lost the luster of its former self. And as this country has been sinking under the weight of its wars, economics crises and domestic problems, countries like Mexico have also felt the burn of this downturn.

As a Mexican citizen, who only knows the U.S. courtesy of student and tourist visas, I have a view of America that is slightly different from the average American citizen. Though I have been lucky to experience several important life-learning lessons in this country, I have not always lived here. And thus, what I can see as happening here comes from both my direct observations and conversations with Americans, but also from my own Mexican heritage and viewpoint of a foreigner.

Amid that curtain of shadows, someone decided to step onto the crumbling stage of American politics. Acknowledging the present adversity, Barack Obama slowly began to win back those suspicious hearts and minds. Instead of making false promises of an instant solution to all the U.S. troubles - as most aspiring leaders tend to do - he delivered powerful words of hope. Those words of hope were different in that they came from a man who had been through difficult times himself. Born of a Kenyan father and an American mother, Obama fought against the trivialities of a consumerist society to make himself heard: not for his material possessions but rather with the strong pillars of his mind. His profound and honest oratory has touched the hearts of many, bringing back their confidence in a political leader for America. I come from a country that believes in the summoning power of words. Latin Americans have not lost trust in the passion that words can stir up: a passion that nourishes the spirit and gives every fight a flag and a purpose.

Obama brought back the colors to the American flag. Inspired by the freedom of the stars, all 50 states have heard his words and believe him. The inauguration in Washington was an overwhelming event: hundreds of thousands of people brought together by the support of a single man. Obama carefully arranged his words into an inauguration address that was both compelling and soulful.

I was impressed at how spectators managed to cheer and clap so forcefully, but stay in watchful silence as Obama and the rest of the inauguration speakers gave their message. In either case, excitement lingered in the cold air. Many of the frozen smiles turned into tears of joy. But most of them expressed a single relief: Bush left the capital in a helicopter, cutting through an air full of sighs of liberation. I felt glad to see myself surrounded by Americans of a myriad of races —African Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, Asian Americans— and feeling that everyone was sharing the same feelings of hope and bliss in the prospect of a new future for the U.S.

That Obama acknowledges America as a country with an immigrant heritage and that he is willing to provide the same human rights to every individual who dwells in the U.S. is probably one of the most interesting promises that he announced Tuesday. It is undeniable that America’s reputation in the world has been damaged not only by its aggressive foreign policy but also by the relentless attitude of many Americans toward the acceptance of most foreigners in the country. I also hope that Obama dares to change that route and strives to make America a better place for everyone to live in.

I had the opportunity to continue with the celebrations of that memorable Tuesday at the Southern Inaugural Ball. As hundreds of guests met, despite the incessant cold, at the D.C. Armory, wearing elegant evening gowns and sophisticated suits, I knew the excitement for Obama’s victory was far from over, but rather had just begun. And as people gathered in front of the main stage to see the dance of the president and the first lady, I thought I was truly getting a glimpse of America’s renewal: with a man humble enough to ask the world for its first dance.

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