Just as folks from my parents' generation will never forget where they were when Neil Armstrong took his "giant leap for mankind," I'll never forget where I was on November 4, 2008. I watched my country elect its first black president -- in a sense, also a "giant leap" -- via CNN on a slightly-delayed cable connection in a tiny bar in Huajuapan de León, Mexico.
Our little expat community -- which included seven Americans, a couple of Brits, a girl from Spain and the local Mexicans who love us -- gathered in Sagrario's Bar -- the only place with cable TV in all of Huajuapan -- after work to watch the election returns. When we walked in the door, Sagrario's staff graciously flipped the channel from a soccer game to CNN en inglés and brought over some complimentary nachos.
They must've sensed that it was going to be a long night.
We hunkered down for our four-hour political fix. There was lively banter around the table as we watched states turn blue and red. The Americans in the group attempted to explain our country's hard-to-explain electoral college system -- a daunting task in one's native language, let alone in broken Spanish. The Brits in the group balked at CNN's audacity to spin their exit-poll projections as gospel. And the women in the group admired Anderson Cooper's, well, everything.
It was a great way to watch the election. And, personally, having observed the campaign unfold from overseas (including, of all places, in Obama, Japan), I couldn't have imagined a more appropriate way for me to witness American history in the making: far, far away from home, in the company of folks who aren't, as they say in Spanish, estadounidense.
It's this mish-mash of countries, languages and people that has shaped my political views. I've spent the last 18 months traveling, meeting folks of sorts of political persuasions, engaging in long, passionate, late-night discussions and, frankly, doing a lot of apologizing on behalf of my country for our dismal foreign affairs record. I've been asked -- by Japanese junior high students and Cambodian taxi drivers and Korean bartenders and Mexican supermarket clerks -- how I planned to cast my vote (how's that for a sense of responsibility to make sure I sent my absentee ballot on time?). I've been the recipient of verbal assault when folks in far-away lands have taken their political frustrations out on me, the only American in the room. And, sadly, because of the latter, I've done my fair share of claiming to be Canadian -- or Irish or Argentine or French, or, well, anything but American to avoid potentially heated situations.
And after all of these conversations and lessons and observations, what's my take on the whole thing? The watered-down, blog-compliant, 50-words-or-less version is this: For the USA to have any chance to be respected internationally, to have any hope of salvaging diplomatic relations, to truly show that we've learned from the last eight years of failed leadership, we'd have to put Obama in the White House.
And that's exactly what we did last night. For the first time in a long time, I was proud of my country. So proud.
I got chills when I watched the crowd erupt into cheers in Grant Park in Chicago (I wanted to be there with y'all, Chi-Town!). I thought of Kenyan friends when CNN coverage panned to images of celebration in Kongelo. I smiled as Mexican pals sent me text messages, offering me congratulations for my country's smart choice for president. And I got misty when I heard Obama thank his family, remember his grandmother, speak about how far we've come as a nation, give us hope for the long road ahead, and, most importantly, talk about change.
Change is a good thing.
So, ¡arriba Obama!, and thank you, my fellow Americans, for giving me a reason to be proud, even if it is from thousands of miles away.