I don’t know why Michelle Obama has chosen, as of this writing, not to explain her recent statements concerning pride in her country, but I was somewhat shocked to realize that, as a Mexican-American conservative Republican, I might have expressed a similar view--albeit not in front of a world audience.
Please allow me to explain.
Like her, I was born in 1964, so my American experience, in terms of narrative sequence and moments in time, is somewhat similar to hers. I am a first generation American--born, predictably, in East L.A.--and the first quintessentially American experience I distinctly recall is watching the first moon landing in 1969. I vaguely remember my father explaining--in Spanish--that those were astronauts actually landing on that orb. He never said, “We have landed on the moon,” yet his awe and admiration were unmistakable--even to a little boy.
As I grew older, my fondness for browsing through encyclopedias and history textbooks also made me a great admirer of this country’s march through time. I never felt “pride” because, even though I was acutely aware of my citizenship, I believed that my ancestors had played no role in making the United States great. The first Mexican I encountered in my textbooks was Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, described therein as a tyrant who was captured while cowering in some hideout by a larger-than-life General Houston. A very proud classmate in my predominantly white San Diego County middle school sneered, “We kicked your asses!”
In spite of this sense of exclusion, I became an ardent fan of American fighting men as described by Cornelius Ryan in his incredible accounts of the defeat of fascism--as Sean Hannity would put it--at their hands. Yet it wasn’t until I myself graduated from the Infantry School at Fort Benning that mere admiration became real, native pride. Similarly, I didn’t feel pride in our space program until my brother became involved with the space shuttle over 25 years ago. He is now a space station project leader at Boeing who meets with astronauts and does all kinds of other neat stuff. (By the way, my military service has made it possible for me to proudly and unambiguously point out this country’s achievements in various fields of endeavor.)
Hence, my generous interpretation of Mrs. Obama’s comments. While Mr. Hannity might take exception to her sentiment in light of the aforementioned triumph over the Axis powers (he lists many national achievements that merit unabashed beaming), we should remember that, Tuskegee Airmen and Dr. King notwithstanding, minorities have rarely taken center stage in this country’s continuing drama. Not that we haven’t been involved in the collective effort, it’s just that we haven’t exactly been protagonists of the big-picture, busts, monuments, and abstracts departments. As students, doing homework, taking tests, and looking back at a monochromatic highlight reel, many of us feel that we are mere spectators.
I would submit that the multiracial, multi-allegiant ardor unfolding around our choice for first lady as she endeavors to see her husband through a successful presidential bid, has made her realize--belatedly perhaps--that a remarkable cross section of the populace has found common purpose almost solely on the merits of one black man with an alarming (to many) name. It is a turn of events so unexpected as to merit Bard-like coinage. So, though the motives that led to her remarks may continue to mystify, I hope that we will excuse the apparent transgression as an instance of psychic ambiguity coupled with involuntary verbal paucity.