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Michelle's Pride

By Rene - Posted on 20 February 2008

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.


What a moving post! 

I too was disturbed by Michelle's comment and their implications. I appreciate you providing some insight. I do wish she would elaborate to help others understand, but perhaps she feels that there is no point - that those who would interpret her remarks negatively will continue to do so regardless of her explanation.

Rene, great post, giving clarity to the thought processes that shape what we all think, feel and say.  We are each the sum of our past experiences.  Having always been a part of "white America" I have never experienced the lack of a sense of continuity, and being able to relate to our history as a nation.  I did have a brush with it through my late husband though.  Before we married, we decided to have a pre-nuptiual agreement drawn up.  Not to guarantee a settlement in case of divorce, but to assign assets that we both had going into the marriage, as we both had been married before and had grown children.  Because he was from out of state, we both used my attorney.  My American hubby was of Hispanic descent, with a name that reflected his heritage.  The disdain, though unspoken, was obvious as I made my first visit to the atty. concerning this matter.  His disdain turned to obvious shock and a grudging admiration when my amiable, well spoken college educated husband sat down with him to finalize the arrangements.  It was infuriating and hilarious all at the same time. 

My husband's grown children are pretty much main stream America, with the exception of the youngest, who is in college. She has become very outspoken and almost militant on the subject of Mexican pride.  As I read your post, I came to understand why.  I can see where growing up in a nation where the achievers do not reflect who you are could give one a sense isolation and disconnect. 

Here is where Obama comes in.  He shows minorities that the dream to be president is not only for the white, and well born.  He gives the white population a chance to see not ethnicticity, but a dream for a better America.  He makes us all look beyond what we were to what we can be. He message of unity, change and hope is one that anyone of any race or creed can relate to.  He makes us think, he makes us feel, and he makes us care.  

Thank you Rene for a post that enlightend me and gave me understanding.  I am now more able to understand where Michelle was coming from in her statement.  I have not heard her comment in context of what she was talking about, only the press reports on it.  My immediate reaction was one of anger.  Not at her, but at those who pick one comment to use as a weapon to divide. I felt that the media was equating personal pride with love of country.  I am also more able to understand why my step daughter feels the way she does.  Maybe Sen Obama's message of unity will give her what she needs to also feel that she is a part of who we are as a people.

"We are the change we have been waiting for."

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