A letter about Pres. Barack Obama
When I was 11, my father bought me a bootleg Obama t-shirt from when the former POTUS ran for president in 2008.
He had spent several weeks within a handful of American cities for a business trip with his colleagues from the oil company where they worked. He dug through layers and layers of t-shirts from different Ivy League universities he visited and dreamed of sending his children to, yanking the black, bootleg Obama t-shirt with “2008” written on it out of his suitcase, and handed it to me with a proud smile. I marveled at it, and quickly ran to my bedroom and put it on.
Barack Obama is the first American president I remember.
Like most people, I was hooked when I learned about his connection to Indonesia. He was raised partly by his Indonesian stepfather in Jakarta. I imagined him as a young boy, not much older than I, running around a Jakarta suburb like mine. Did he play soccer as much as my brothers and I did? Did he take an angkot or an ojek to school like I did? His campaign, and later, his victory, added a series of imaginations that I wasn’t able to conceive previously.
His second term as president marked a new beginning for me. As an 11-year-old Jawa/Sunda child raised in the upper middle class Jakarta suburb, I had little conception of race and privilege. In 2008, I knew to a certain extent that it was a historic moment that a Black man was running for America’s highest office. But it wasn’t until I was 16 going on 17 that I came to identify with him racially. Once I stepped foot in Seattle, I was no longer Orang Jawa and Sunda. I became a person of color. I became Asian. I gained lenses through which I was able to analyze Obama’s policies, flaws, and careful dance in racial politics as a half white, half Black president.
Since October 2016 I haven’t really stopped writing articles about the upcoming, anxiety-inducing Donald Trump presidency. It is all there is to talk about. There are very real feelings of fear, anger, hopelessness inside and around me. My friends and I were in all kinds of influence as we watched the election results on CNN—marijuana, alcohol, heaps of candy. Not even those things I loved to indulge could save me from going to work sluggish and feeling small for at least two weeks after.
We cope in different ways. Some cope with humor, some came to community gatherings to hold one another dear. Some organized protests, while others disassociated and refused to engage. As a highly nostalgic person, I found some peace remembering Obama and of course, Michelle.
When the clock turned to midnight and set us in the new year, I approached the beginning of 2017 with endings of a lot of things in mind, including Barack Obama’s presidency – something that partly symbolizes a blanket of familiarity and solace to me.
I will not discount the fact that Obama’s administration has led to more deportations of people and separations of families more than any administration in American history. I will not discount Obama’s confused and lost speeches when he said Black and brown people should stop making excuses for their oppression. I will not discount that sometimes, he got it wrong. Many have suffered because of him. Yes, he inherited many problems that George W. Bush had collected, but he had shortcomings of his own. Yet, despite all of this, I cannot let go of the feeling of hopefulness that I felt watching his victory in 2008, when even I, a mere 11-year-old girl living so far away from America, could feel the beginning of history.
I sat on a stool in my kitchen, watching the live streaming of Obama’s farewell address to an audience in Chicago, with a glass of wine in my hand, fighting off tears.
January. For every beginning, an ending