I voted yesterday with my son, Ethan, sitting beside me at the kitchen table. My wife Suzie, who is a naturalized Vietnamese-American, insists on the ritual of going to the polls on election day. Looking at our son, she said, “Our community fought so hard for this right that I’d rather vote on election day.” Ethan read the directions aloud and could hardly wait for me to fill in the “president” box. I hesitated. “Well Dad, what are you waiting for?” I thought to myself, I’ve waited a whole lifetime for this, the chance to vote for a man, whose parents were a social worker from Kansas and an African from Kenya; a man, who is supremely intelligent and blessed with a strong moral compass; a man who many hope will become the next FDR. I hesitated because I was about to vote for a man who could become America’s first black president. Many people, including probably the candidate himself would say that this election is not about race. It’s about issues and who isÂ best qualified to lead.
If that were the case, then the contest would be over. As the late great Chick Hearn often said, “It’s in the refrigerator.”Â But it’s not. It’s not because there are still too many people who judge others by their skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, size or beliefs.Â Let’s face it, voting is a complex process and when it comes down to two candidates who are perceived as “equally” matched in qualifications, most people will choose the person most like themselves.Â And race is probably the biggest factor. If Senator Obama were the one who graduated in the bottomÂ 1%Â of his class, if he were known for public temper outbursts, if he were the one who met his second wife in a bar and had an affair while still married, if his wife had once been addicted to pain killers and acquired them illegally, if he were involved n the “Keating 5,” and if he was the one who selected a vice president who attended five third tier universities and hadÂ violated state ethics laws, there is no doubt that John McCain would be our next president.
I hesitated because I thought of my own family, my parents who were interned during World War II because of their Japanese ancestry. I thought of their struggles to overcome way too many barriers. I thought of my wife’s journey, escaping from Vietnam, alone, without knowing a word of English and now earning her doctorate. I remembered all the hard working people I grew up with in Garden Grove, a blue collar town, chock full of working families trying to scrape a life together.Â I thought of my transgender nephew struggling throughout his life for affirmation, and I thought of my cousins’ sons, two fine young men serving in Iraq whom we all pray will make it home.
And in that instant I thought of Barack’s words, “If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum;” Out of many, one.”
In that moment, I realized that if Obama were to win, the barometer would not be about how far blacks have come. An Obama victory would be a measure of how far America has come in living up to the promise of its great founders.
I smiledÂ and looked my son in the eye and said, “Let’s fill in the box.”
Michael Matsuda – 10/12/08
Michael Matsuda is aÂ member ofÂ the North Orange County Community College District Board of Trustee’s.Â