March 21, 2010

When I became proud to be an American

By Rose Barker
(Side note: Check out the new Matt Damon movie “Green Zone.”)

I starkly remember the moment I was first proud to be an American.
I was sitting in a blue plastic child's chair and fixated on the television.
Sandy from playing on the beach, suntanned, and salty. Curious, eager, and excited. And 26 years old.

In March of 2003 I cried and shook when Bush announced his 48 hour ultimatum to Hussein. I was in the middle of a Spanish class in Oaxaca, Mexico. I didn't eat for a day.

There were street demonstrations, people passionate and enraged that we Americans were asserting “our” power in a place we had no business. I was terrified when 19 boys cornered me in the center square. One teen began screaming at me. “Don't you get it? You Americans have no right! You are killing people! You are killing freedom!” He lunged toward me, and others in the group held him from attacking me.

“You don't understand,” I said with an even tone, masking my fear. “Were you at the protest yesterday? Did you read the paper? I was the gringa behind the megaphone, I was the one saying how only half the Americans voted him into office, and that means only half of us support the war. And I was the one vehemently agreeing with the United Nations and disagreeing with his policies and presidency!”


President Bush said the whole ultimatum bit was about the Iraqis “permitting the peaceful entry of coalition forces to eliminate weapons of mass destruction." WMD. There's Bush's favorite acronym of the 21st century. The US needs to be sure the world is following our political drive, not respecting the collective wisdom of the United Nations.

Later that week in Oaxaca there would be 1,000 protesters silently marching in their shrouds of white. These Mexicans valued the lives of those we were waging war against. These Mexicans were not Iraqi, they were not American, but they were human. I joined the group in quiet solidarity.

Did you know I considered defecting? That I was wondering if I should denounce my country and find another in which I felt welcome? I've never spoken publicly before now. I want you to know that I believe much of Bush's presidency was a reign of lies, of masterful deceit, and, ultimately, of terror. He was an extremely selfish man, and there does lie the chance that he is simply profoundly ignorant and a puppet of others. But how would that fill his pockets? Hmmmm. Perhaps he had more than the goodwill of the American people in mind.

But I digress.

As I sat in that blue plastic chair, tears streamed down my face. I let them dribble off my chin. I was sober and joyful. It was the inauguration of President Obama.
I don't care that he's black; this makes no difference to me. I knew enough about him to vote. I'm non-partisan, so I'll vote for whomever I believe to be my nation's best leader. I knew he is decent. I knew he is earnest. And I knew, above all, that he is not Bush.

It took eight awful years, but my people finally began to recognize truth. That Weapons of Mass Destruction just might be as big of a myth as Bush having gone to grammar school. The election was much less about the two candidates on hand as it was about ousting Bush from office. I chose the Republican because he was able-bodied, had an upstanding running mate, acknowledged Bush led our nation on a path into destruction, and gave his word to begin the reversal.

As I sat in that plastic chair, sniffing and straining to hear, my Ecuadorian coworkers and students milled around me. They watched for a while and went about their business, glad he'd won, and still wondering about the dangerous relations between the US-Ecuadorian governments.
I was spellbound. Sure, he's not the be-all-end-all. No one could quickly reverse the devastation Bush left on our economy and in foreign policy. But at least it's a start.

For the first time in my life, I became proud to be an American.


  1. there is lots of work to be done. but i'm glad that some people are trying to fix this broken system.

  2. And I'm fairly certain that, as a fellow traveler, you would agree that said 'changing of the guards' has an enormous effect on Americas abroad. Personally, I dislike ALL of those politician-types, but BO's inauguration dramatically changed the way many of us are perceived (and treated) overseas.

  3. T - I completely agree.

    M - Excellent observation. I experienced the same.
    I was in Ecuador when he was voted in. It seemed the entire population breathed a sigh of relief when it happened. And they were friendlier to me, creating a stronger feeling of safety. Intriguing.