It's been over two weeks since I had the honor to attend the swearing-in of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. It was a trip that I promised myself to make the night of November 4th. That night, tears of joy escaped my eyes for only the second time in my life.
The first time was when I was a small child. We were living in Oklahoma and had to make a sudden trip back home to Arizona in order to visit a dying grandmother. The town I grew up in, and most of my family's roots sprout from, is nestled in a breathtaking valley of mountains that are aptly named Superstition. When we turned the corner after the drive up the pass that leads to the valley, the familiar and yearned-for sight of the rock sentinels sent me into a fit of tears. It was a release, and one that was deep enough to not be repeated until a few months ago.
I have been horrified by the direction taken by my country over the past decade. On September 11th, 2001, I was not one of the countless who went into a revenge-fueled blood lust for war, rather I felt compelled to pray. And pray I did, along with hundreds of others who gathered for a candlelight service we planned on the lawn of my church.
"There has to be another way" - it is a silent and sometimes spoken aloud musing of mine. It is something that guides me in my everyday dealings, even when I put on the macro lens and ponder the world around me.
You can imagine my blood pressure levels during the Bush regime as torture became sanctioned, habeas corpus rights dashed, and political maneuvering signaled a declaration of war against latinos through the not-so-subtle tying of border security with the fight against terrorism. Sadly, just the tip of the iceberg that also involved the beginning of the current economic nightmare unleashed for many of us.
When tears flowed down my face on election night, it was a moment to finally let go of all the anxiety, fear and anger that has been my constant companion as latino culture and latino identity has been under assault. We all have felt the repercussions of Bush policies in our own way, I've written many times here about my own dealings with the fear-based reality that was created.
Inauguration, and the swearing-in of President Obama, was meant to be a clean break. Change. And in many, many ways, things are already starting to move in a more sane direction, but there has been so much pain wrought and the seeds planted for future hardship, that it is hard to remain patient and trust that justice will someday be served or that government will begin to work for the people rather than against it.
I am barely sharing my thoughts now because the past couple of weeks have been utterly horrendous in Arizona. Former governor Janet Napolitano's exit has presented the real possibility that education will be thoroughly gutted at all levels in our state. As a longtime employee of schools, this is something that I've obviously monitored closely. We are bracing ourselves for destructive cuts that will violate the long-term strength of our society. How can education be the thing that motivates saliva of uber-conservative legislators who are given the sacred trust of holding political office yet govern on the premise that government should be defunded and destroyed? I will never understand it. There has to be another way.
So reality has slapped me across the face painfully since my return to the desert. Instead of being able to bask in the amazing experience I had in Washington, D.C., the entire eight days has now turned into a deep breath. One that I must have known I was taking at the time. A deep breath of preparation for what was undoubtedly on its way. An oasis of solace that I fear makes our lawmakers too comfortable and insulated from the horrors that are lived in the streets as jobs are lost, tuition rates double, and concentration camps rise in our cities.
It is why we must hold our elected officials accountable to what is happening in our lives. We need to continue calling, faxing, marching and voting so that our system of democracy returns to its rightful place of assistance not a roadblock to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is another way - and if I learned one thing after being in that gigantic sea of humanity on Tuesday, January 20th - it's that we are not only on this journey together, we are also the makers of the map that will ultimately lead us to treasure.
Realizing this all over again, each day, I can only take a deep breath and then take a small step forward.