Let me be (I hope) one of the first Filipino bloggers to congratulate President Barack Obama.
Awhile ago, many of us took notice – and rejoiced – when Barack Obama won the US Presidential elections to be the first African-American to lead the nation. It was a culmination of an obsession and a fascination of that occasional season where we, non-Americans, delight and revel in an election and a right that isn’t ours.
Sen. Ed Angara, who put geopolitics into play, may have articulated the message best: Barack’s mother was from Hawaii, Sen. John McCain was detained as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, so the vote has a lot to do with Asia.
I’m not anti-American, but I am a non-American. I do not have the same Constitutional rights given to an American citizen to vote every four years for an American President. Yet as the world rejoices over the victory of President Obama, I’m a bit more pensive. As a non-American, what exactly do I have at stake with this milestone in American history?
There’s a certain fascination – sometimes even bordering on epal – on non-Americans like myself to make a big fuss about what the international community has at stake with a US Presidential election. There have been many questions asked to both Obama and McCain over the course of the 2008 US Elections by us non-Americans: what’s their policy on outsourcing? How will they improve foreign relations with other countries? What’s their favorite color? What’s their stand on reproductive health? What will they do on their first 100 days in office?
The fact that we are so intertwined and even dependent on the United States is often the justification why we think we have a stake at this election. Some of us take care of their old and sick, some of us diagnose their Blue Screens of Death and answer queries on “how to turn the Internet on.” Some of us, in effect, do their jobs. Or perhaps it’s tit-for-tat: that if the Americans have so much vested interest in whoever our President is, then we should have the same for theirs… perhaps even more. Or maybe they have a much better elections than we do: while we never get to know who our real leaders are and constantly file impeachment complaints challenging mandates and legitimacy, the Americans get to know their poll results in a matter of hours.
Yet with all that said, the American people voted for an American President to represent their interests as Americans. Whatever position America may have assumed over the years – a guardian of freedom, the vanguard of democracy, the global police, whatever – puts us non-Americans in the position of outsiders: accidental beneficiaries and consequential casualties to whatever sold the American people into putting their trust and confidence into the person they elect as their leader.
Is it the controlling and hypnotic influence of the media? Is it global imperialism at work? Is it our collective frustration at work? Is it our penchant for intrigue and spectacle? I do not know exactly, but whatever it is gives us the idea that we have “so much at stake” when in truth, an American President puts American interests first, and our interests are merely consequential. What’s at stake is whether or not we’ll get the same amount of ambon – the trickle-down effect – that will come now that the US has its first African-American President.
That’s all we will get: ambon. Obama will not do anything for us out of good grace; as the American President, he will represent American interests. We will get that ambon – perhaps even nothing – and we’ll like it. The fact that we may claim that we are part of that abstract concept called “US interests” doesn’t mean anything.
We, non-Americans, did not vote for Obama. We rejoice for Obama, we congratulate Obama, but we have nothing at stake. This is a time for change – for American change – that will put America first.
As the fracas and the fiesta lights up the streets of Lake Shore Drive and the Magnificent Mile to celebrate the triumph of democracy here, our streets are remarkably silent. Normal, even. Few mourned the death of democracy in the Philippines when a certain phone call robbed us of a million votes. Few wailed and screamed and demanded justice when someone robbed our farmers of fertilizer, coming here clutching his chest and perishing in an air conditioned hospital room.
Some of us do not exercise our democratic right to resistance, preferring instead to just let this all happen while we make our “vested interests” in a guy who, black or white, red or blue, is the 44th President of the United States of America: not the United States of Not-America.