Obama’s legacy not defined by policy

Illustration by Mario Rico

Nicholas Garton, Staff Writer

Last week’s Republican National Convention was certainly a spectacle. Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan gave a stirring, crisp address, looking and sounding more presidential with every word. Athletes, politicians and actors all took their turn at the podium talking about how they would like the future of America to look.

One after another stood on stage telling stories about their ancestors immigrating to this country in search of a better life, not for themselves, but for their children. Marco Rubio spoke about his father coming from Cuba, galvanized by the promise that his son Marco could realize the dreams he himself never could. Mitt Romney spoke about family life as well and mentioned the generations of people who kissed the ground at Ellis Island, having escaped to a land of opportunity.

On and on it went, throngs of people expounding on jobs, money, prosperity, freedom and the American dream. Yet, there was someone missing in this crowd. Someone that did not have the chance to tell their story.

Rubio, Romney and the Republicans were right. America is exceptional in that parents’ circumstances don’t have to define their children’s. I began to think about my ancestors and my grandparents’ generations. Did they feel so inspired by the American Dream? Did they celebrate at Ellis Island or travel here to escape dictatorship?

No, they did not. This is the story that was not told at the convention. I’m glad Marco Rubio’s father found inspiration in the American Dream. I am happy for Mitt Romney’s ancestors who came to this country in search of a better life. Their stories ended with Marco living the dreams his father had for him and Mitt running for President.

That’s not my story, nor the story of my ancestors. They were brought here in chains and on slave ships. They were beaten, raped, bred like horses and legally considered inhuman; still, they persevered. They didn’t dream of escaping to America for freedom. They had dreams of freedom in America.

Every parent hopes that their child will live out a better existence than they had. For my ancestors, however, this hope was as unrealistic as a trip to Mars. The status quo was set. Whites had all the power, all the prosperity and all the rights. No matter what changes were made to the law or what wars were fought over these issues, nothing seemed to really change.

Nonetheless, African Americans and those who fought along side them for their rights persevered. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X died dreaming of a day when their people would see true freedom. Many blacks around the country mourned at the time of their deaths because then it felt like those dreams were further away than ever.

The American Dream for Romney’s predecessors was to scratch out a better life for their children. The American Dream for Dr. King and Minister Malcolm was to be able to walk down the street on equal terms as anyone else.

The ultimate dream of Dr. King was realized on Jan. 20, 2009 when a black man took office as the President of the United States. Barack Obama’s presidency is the most historic of all presidencies. He represented the most thrilling victory of the American Dream. He represented a race that started out as cattle in this country. He represented people who could not use the same bathrooms, drink the same water, sit in the same seats, or own land as others could.

Is it all about race? No, nor should it be. However, since we’re hearing stories of opportunity at the convention used to blast the President as if he somehow represents the death of that opportunity, then yes, we must talk about race. We cannot ignore how his race makes his story unique, a story that was not told at the RNC this week.

We do need more jobs. We do need economic reform. We need to stop these wars. We need good health care. We need businesses to prosper. But President Obama’s story is not defined by those things. His story is one of overcoming, persevering, hope becoming reality and dreams coming true. Mitt Romney wondered if people only felt those things as they voted for Obama and if those feelings are gone. No, those feelings aren’t gone. Not for me. Not for others around the nation who share my ancestors’ story.

I just wish Mitt Romney could have heard that story last night.