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Why I Choose Obama

Nguoi-viet.com, Commentary, Michael Matsuda Posted: Oct 26, 2008

I voted yesterday with my son, Ethan, sitting beside me at the kitchen table. My wife, 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 Id 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, Ive waited a whole lifetime for this, the chance to vote for a man, whose parents were a social worker from Kansas and an Afrrican 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 Americas first black president. Many people, including probably the candidate himself would say that this election is not about race. Its about issues and who is ''best qualified to lead.''

If that were the case, then the contest would be over. As the late great Chick Hearn often said, ''Its in the refrigerator.'' But its not. Its not because there are still too many people who judge others by their skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, size or beliefs.

Lets 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. And race is probably the biggest factor. If Senator Obama were the one who graduated in the bottom 1 percent 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 had 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 wifes journey, escaping from Việt Nam, 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. 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 Baracks words, ''If theres a child on the south side of Chicago who cant read, that matters to me, even if its not my child. If theres a senior citizen somewhere who cant pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if its not my grandmother. If theres an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. Its that fundamental belief I am my brothers keeper, I am my sisters keeper that makes this country work. Its 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 smiled and looked my son in the eye and said, ''Lets fill in the box.''

Michael Matsuda is a teacher with the Anaheim Union High School District. He also is a member of the California Curriculum Commission and a trustee for the North Orange County Community College District.

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