Dreams From My Father

I told myself I wouldn’t read it until after Nov 4th, but I was waiting on some books from the library so I had nothing to read, and I saw it on sale at the bookstore during my lunch break last week and I couldn’t resist: Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father.  I didn’t want to read it because I knew it would make me like Obama even more, and if he lost on Nov 4th I would feel really bummed.  Oh well.  I’m almost finished with the book, and it is really really good.  So good in fact, that yesterday I missed my stop on the train coming home and didn’t realize it until the train had pulled into the last station and the conductor made the announcement for everyone to get off the train.  Lucky for me, my stop is the second to last stop anyway, so it wasn’t that serious. 

This book was published in 1995, before Obama became a national political superstar, so it is quite honest and doesn’t hold back on descriptions of Obama’s college party days, experiments with drugs, his feelings on black power, black nationalism, racism, social justice, and his struggles of finding his identity as a black man in America.  In the preface to the 2004 edition, Obama wrote that part of him regrets some of the details he put into this book that have been used against him when he started his political career.  It’s kind of surprising to read such intimate details about a popular public figure. 

I think its pretty great that we could have a president with such a unique story and world view.  A man of mixed race who obviously understands the nuances of race relations in this country.  He spent his childhood in Indonesia with his mother, his adolescence in Hawaii with his grandparents, his college years in LA and NYC, then spent 3 years organizing black churches and community leaders in Chicago, then went to Kenya to meet his African family for the first time.  I think these experiences are what make Obama such an effective politician, they allow him to understand problems and solve problems with a different perspective that most other politicians.  I don’t mean to be gushing about Obama, I’m not naive enough to think that if he’s elected then all of our problems will be solved.  I’m just saying that he is a very cool, very smart guy who gets it.  And I do really hope he gets elected.

One part in the book really struck me.  Obama was describing to his Kenyan sister about a relationship he had with a white woman.  When Obama and his girlfriend were alone, their relationship was great.  But then, the woman took Obama to her grandparent’s country house, and Obama realized that if their relationship continued, he would have to live in her world, since he already knew how to be part of the white person’s world and culture; he had been doing all his life.  But she could not live in his.  He took her to a play by a black playwright that involved a lot of anger and what he calls “typical black American humor” and his white girlfriend was not impressed.  She thought anger wasn’t a productive way of dealing with past problems, that anger was a dead end.  Her and Obama had a fight, she told him she couldn’t be black, no matter how much he wanted her to be.  They broke up.

I had put the book down as soon as I read this.  Obama wrote about something that Manny tells me all the time.  Manny even uses the same words, about living in different worlds.  Manny has learned to be part of the white American world, the mainstream culture.  But as a white woman, I’ve never learned to live in his world, a Mexican world, an immigrant world.  As a white woman, I never had the need to do this.  Manny and I have talked about this a lot, we’ve come to terms with it we’ve compromised about it.  But when I read stuff like this I still get insecure, I mean, even Obama couldn’t have an inter-racial relationship!  What hope is there for the rest of us?  Dramatics aside, I need to stop these comparisons.  Manny is not Obama.  He has never made me feel like I should Mexican, and never made it seem like he wished I was.  I have never passed judgement on Mexican culture nor would say that their way of dealing with their past is a dead end. 

Its strange to write about such personal things, I’m actually a private person in real life.  Feels good to get those thoughts out there.  Last night, in my moment of insecurity, I asked Manny if he felt like he always had to be part of my world in order for us to be together.  “No,” he said. “We both live in Brooklyn now.”

Oh Brooklyn, the great equalizer.  Here is an example of Obama-inspired racial harmony that Manny and I thought was so appropriate, him being Latino, me being Irish.  We had to stop in front of this stranger’s house to take a picture:

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