Tuesday, 20 January 2009

An historic day for Americans

Today was a monster, monster big day in the history of the USA and, by extension, all of America. I was glad to be here for it. (NB It is - in Che Guevara's words - "America with a capital 'A'", "América con 'A' mayúscula" that gives a title to this blog. And, if you ask me, given the historical links/similarities of Latin and North America, the concept of "The Americas" is not as pretentious as it sounds.)

It remains to be seen whether Barack Obama will make a great or even a good president. So far, he has done one thing right: on a day of great joy and pageantry, he confronted his audience (the world) with a sobering message, reminding them of the difficulties he (and the world) faces, whilst giving his message of hope with eloquence and clarity.

And he has another thing going for him: just like a comedian coming on after Jim Davidson, Bernard Manning or, er, Michael Richards, he does not have a tough act to follow. (Did anyone else notice the difference on George Bush's face before and after Obama's speech? At first politely greeted by the crowd, he then had to sit through 20 minutes of "America has screwed up. Let's start over again." I almost - amost - felt sorry for the poor bastard.)

But whether Obama succeeds in the face of all the adversity or not, a black man becoming president marks a proud day in American history.

Europeans are often touchy around the subject of race. Our idea of "political correctness" tends to be ignoring the concept altogether. One Swiss girl I met in the north of Mexico exemplified this: she insisted that race did not exist amongst human beings. She was beginning a very long trip through Latin America when she said this, and I preferred not to argue with her on the point. I don't know where she will have got to now on her journey south - but if she has travelled with an open mind she will have changed her opinion altogether by now.

American history can be seen as a history of race (in analogy to how Marx, the European philosopher, saw "all" history as the history of the class struggle? Please discuss in 20,000 words...), as "America" only began to exist as a concept when white Europeans first arrived in the New World. Later they would wipe out the natives (North America) or procreate and create a new race (Latin America, as celebrated on "Race Day" on 12 October) and bring over African slaves. Therefore, the day when the continents' most important and influencial nation anoints a leader out of what was once the slave race is undeniably a huge moment in that historical process which began with Colombus in 1492. African-American culture has been a part of America for centuries. At last that non-dominant culture is given the political leadership.

I watched the ceremony and speech after traipsing round Sucre - the historical capital of Bolivia - for a good 45 mins to find a place where I could definitely watch CNN in English. After finding a few places showing it in Spanish and one in German (yes, German) I eventually persuaded the owner of a pizzeria to show it in English, and settled down to watch with a couple of Bolivians

A certain analogy to Bolivia can be made here. Bolivia's president is Evo Morales. A "socialist", he is the first indigenous president of Bolivia. He is therefore descended from the "Indians" who worked the mines and haciendas of Spanish America, and on the 25th of this month, he will likely win a referendum to allow him to stand for election after his present term finishes.

He is very popular, largely because he represents the lower classes - or, as a Bolivian might say, the darker-skinned people - and is not a dictator (unlike Hugo Chávez of Venezuela) but was elected fairly.

I wonder how Obama and Morales will get on?


"Así se creó un nuevo paisaje y se produjo una nueva sociedad. América, como ningún otro sitio, fue lugar de fecundo mestizaje biológico y cultural."

"And so a new land was created and a new society was produced. America, like no other place, was the site of fertile biological and cultural mixture."

- The Palace of the Inquisition, Museum, Cartagena, Colombia

1 comment:

Richard Smith said...

Another great blog, and a truly original perspective on an event where it seems almost impossible to say anything new--which hasn't stopped the newspapers devoting 20 pages each to the inauguration. I watched the whole event but found it impossible to write a word on what was a wonderful day.