Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA! : You Didn't Put a Slave Owner in the White House!

I am thirty years old, Hispanic, a small business woman, and daughter of a retired Army Master Sergeant and...

My deep, dark, secret... Seriously.

My fellow Americans, I did not vote for Barack Obama.

That statement seems so unpatriotic after the $170M (What recession?) pomp and circumstance displayed yesterday as we welcomed our new Commander in Chief.

However, I like millions of Americans, joined in the celebration of a truly magnificent moment in our nation's history. Much to my boyfriend's dismay - Netflix movies arrived that we've wanted to see and songs on Guitar Hero that needed to be conquered - we began the week by watching the We Are One Concert Sunday night at the Lincoln Memorial.

I was touched by the obviously moved presenters and performers and teared up as I sang along to Garth Brook's We Shall Be Free. (Yes, imagine that! A Puerto Rican who loves country!)

I continued in the excitement through the morning of the Inauguration from sunrise, minute by minute, never skipping a moment while I worked throughout the day with my laptop on my lap and ABC's Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson keeping me company with the latest news and information.

As I watched the President take his oath of office, I was filled with pride in a nation that saw past the color of a man's skin and elected him to our country's highest office.

And I cried when Aretha Franklin's eyes sparkled as she belted out "My Country 'Tis of Thee" in the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King's beloved dream.

I too shared in the remarkable moment as the stories my own grandmother echoed in my mind about the difficulties of being a single working mother with dark toffee colored skin...

The way she has about her, when I call her still furious from another encounter at a department store where an absent-minded person will ask me to help them with their purchase because they assume I must work there since it's the middle of the day during a work week, and I have kinky hair and I look like I speak Spanish.

"Dori, it's because you're not afraid to look a person in the eye and smile, not because you look like you work there!

These days no one has it in them to stand tall, walk proud, with purpose and pride and be confident enough to really see the people around them; therefor you must work there...

Don't change who you are because others keep themselves closed in a bubble unable to see the world around them."

I watched the swearing in, the speech quoting great leaders of our country, watched Laura and George Bush wave goodbye as they boarded Executive One, watched the parade wondering WHAT ON EARTH Michelle was thinking wearing that outfit in twenty degree weather, danced to the incredible drum lines in the parade as I made dinner, and then curled up to watch the Neighborhood Ball where I once again questioned the choice of the First Lady's fashion sense as she glided onto the stage in what appeared to be an unflattering toga with pasted on feathers and cotton balls!

And, I cried at Beyonce's emotional serenade as the new President and First Lady danced for the first time...

You could feel the love and adoration that Obama and Michelle feel for one another. It was truly a spectacular moment.

As the ball continued and
Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson continued to MC the day, ABC began to include editorials on notable people and events relating to the historical event.

A segment featuring the descendants of a slave family from the McCain Plantation in Mississippi changed the tone of the day for me.

I remember watching the segment, looking back at Todd and saying,

"I can't believe of all the stories they could have shared tonight, that's the one they chose!"

It told the story of Mary and Lillie McCain who's great grandfather worked for the ancestors of John McCain. The narrator of the story emphasized,

"If you're wondering about the name, yes, they carry the name of their white slave owner McCain, ancestors of Senator John McCain."

The story detailed the family's plight as freedom fighters and ultimate successes overcoming racial discrimination.

Diane Sawyer finished the segment by explaining that when both the Senator and the President were contacted about the story that their response was,

"...with incredible emotional unity, that there is only one way to redeem it, it is that together we must give them opportunity, give everyone, every child the opportunity, it's the only way to redeem this."

I however question the timing and placement of this editorial.

With so many questioning the role of the media in this election I was shocked that segment was aired in the middle of the night's festivities and even more bewildered that
it was sugar-coated as an accidental ironic coincidence, topped off with an insulting inquisition of a respected member of our country.

What can someone say in response to,

Senator McCain, How do you feel about your ancestors having slaves?"

I am not in any way demeaning the suffering of the McCain family's ancestors, nor am I in any way making light of Senator McCain's ancestor's use of slavery - what I AM questioning is ABC's judgment in airing such a story on the night of "unity and a momentous moment in history".

It almost felt as if it was a

"CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA! You didn't put a slave owner in the White House!"

It was awkward and incredibly inappropriate. The anchor panel even seemed trapped in uncomfortable silence at the end of the story.

I can appreciate the irony as much as the next guy -

"the Senator whose ancestors had slaves - loses to a man who's half Kenyan."



Spell it out in black and white (no pun intended).

Don't put the anchors and reporters of that story in such an obviously uncomfortable position to make good TELEVISION - because it was just that - not good reporting, but good Reality TV.


I doubt our new President would have appreciated the tone you created on a night meant to unite our country!

My deep dark secret...

My fellow Americans, I did not vote for Barack Obama.

I voted for a man who has spent his entire life in service of his country.

He's earned the right not to have to explain the actions of those generations before him.

I hope that my great, great grandchildren don't ever have to explain mine.

But, as a child of military parents, it was so difficult for me to wholeheartedly back my party's nominee for president during this past election when there was another candidate who not only stood in service of our country as an elected official for over twenty years, but also served our country in time of war.

I have never supported the wars in the Middle East but I am fiercely supportive of our servicemen and women who are fighting for the freedom of so many and protecting our own.

My ex-husband still suffers from illness from the first Gulf War and my father was deployed for almost two years and that time was very difficult for my family. I was barely thirteen when he came home and shortly after that he was deployed again to the conflict in Somalia.

I was so angry!

"Why do we always have to police the rest of the world!? That's not your job!"

I'll never forget that afternoon as my father sat with me and my sister in a booth at a restaurant for lunch. My parents were in the middle of an ugly divorce and it was our afternoon with him.

I watched him as his face started to show the signs of age that I had never noticed before, and his shoulders dropped as he sighed heavily.

He then sat tall and determined - like the proud, dark, and handsome soldier I had always known.

It was at that moment that the father whose English I always teased, with his heavy Spanish accent, was as eloquent as any scholar whose words I'd ever hear...

"Dani, that flag that I wear on my shoulder that stands for the freedom that I help protect, doesn't just stand for you, but for everyone who can't fight for themselves. As long as I wear that uniform I will go where ever my Commander and Chief tells me to go, so that you don't ever have to witness the things that I have."

I am proud that our new First Lady's focus will be on the military family. Heaven knows that they are truly the unsung heroes of our country.

Their sacrifices are immeasurable so that we can sleep safe at night
in a world where they shield us from nightmares we couldn't imagine are possible, so that we can dream all of life's possibilities.

My deep dark secret...

My fellow Americans, I did not vote for Barack Obama.

But he did indeed win the election and the hearts of our countrymen.

He is not our first African-American President.


A man born from a white mother, an African father, raised in a multicultural home with an Indonesian stepfather and mother and later by the love of his grandparents while his mother worked abroad.

This man is a blending of cultures, races, and family dynamics. He understands the struggles of being unique and learning to overcome the diversity in his life.

What an amazing gift we have been given as a country.

A leader as diverse as the country he leads.

Now that the celebration of a new chapter in our nation's history is behind us, we watch as the President sets to tackle the many challenges that face our country.

I pray that our actions today, and in the next several years, bring pride and honor to the generations to come.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Holiday Magic and Traditions - What are your favorite holiday memories?

As the traditional American and Christian holidays come to an end with the celebration of a new year, I find myself reminiscing over my favorite holiday memories.

There has always been something magical to me about the fall; the smells, colors, feel of the change of the seasons that leads into the holidays.

The festive spirit in our family began as we prepared for Halloween.

In our cedar-sided house in the woods in Watertown, NY, we would spend afternoons collecting the mountains of leaves that fell from the surrounding acres of trees. My father grew up in rural Puerto Rico where Halloween isn't celebrated but all was not lost as he threw himself into celebrating it with us!

I remember giggling as we stuffed those crispy colorful leaves into his old BDU's creating leaf-filled, life-sized but lumpy soldiers in his uniforms, complete with laced-up standard issued combat boots and covering the spot above their collars with old helmets and hats, positioning them against trees along our driveway as though a small squad of soldiers were taking an afternoon nap on our lawn, resting before battle.

On the night of Halloween, my traditionally quiet and reserved, uniformed father would join our sleeping soldiers on the lawn and wait for the children in our neighborhood to knock on our door for candy.

As they walked back down the driveway, he would jump up from his tree screaming and jumping towards them as their shrieks of terror would pierce the air! I'm sure we dressed up and went trick-or-treating like the rest of the kids, but what I remember most is the ache of my sides hurting by the end of the night from all the uncontrollable laughter and my father's eyes filled with that shine and glimmer of glee!

When the aromatically alluring smells from the Adobo-seasoned Pernil (Puerto Rican pork roast) and turkey would awaken me like tickling fingers shortly after sunrise on Thanksgiving morning, I would quickly jump out of bed knowing that my parents had already been up for hours beginning to cook our feast. I can now appreciate the labor and skill that it takes to perfectly roast two different kinds of meat in the oven into perfection; I'm still trying to perfect that incredible feat! While my parents worked on the various dishes and tantalizing smells out of the kitchen, my little sister and I watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Pa
rade and decorated our Christmas tree every year.

Our house was eternally full of life during the holidays. Always thankful for the many blessings in our lives, our family was expanded every year as we welcomed the soldiers that couldn't make it home to their own family's for Thanksgiving from my father's platoon, into ours.

As we got older and the Army moved us to new places, we adopted our favorite regional Thanksgiving dishes to our meal. To our traditional Puerto Rican holiday feast of arroz con gandules, pernil, and decadent coquito (coconut and rum version of the American eggnog), we added homemade macaroni and cheese and cornbread dressing from the Soul Food of the South and squash and green bean casseroles from the North...

Thanksgiving was ultimately the catapult of our Christmas holiday.

This year as my boyfriend and I celebrated our second Thanksgiving together, even though I didn't wake up to the smells of my childhood holiday with my family, we curled up together and he watched the
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for the first time...

When I think about the many places around the world that I've celebrated Christmases, the one place that stands out like a picture post card of the season is Stuttgart, Germany. Stuttgart boasts the largest Weihnachtsmarkt/Christmas Market in Europe - a holiday fantasy land!

The center of town would be transformed into the Weihnachtsmarkt where the air would be filled with the smell of fresh baked soft pretzels the size of our heads that would come with hand churned sweet butter. The bitter cold shielded by the neighboring Black Forest could be quickly erased by glasses (NOT plastic cups) of hot chocolate and hot red wine from the native vineyards. We would shop from the dozens of craftsmen stands selling hand carved ornaments, spun crystal snowflakes and garlands, or go across the street to the large ice skating rink that was built on the town square and just like the picture post cards, it would always magically start to snow as we stumbled across the ice!

I was born and raised in Germany where the spirit of Nikolas has the deepest of roots. Having spent the majority of my childhood in Germany, my earliest memories of "Santa Claus" rather than the bright red suit with white fir trimming, were of traditional folk images with tattered clothes and a patchwork sack filled with candies and coins - not presents. I remember leaving all of our shoes outside of our door the first week of December like all of the children in our neighborhood in the hopes that Nikolas would leave us candy or a coin or two, silently hoping that we wouldn't get a branch root instead indicating he knew we had been naughty that year!

Born into a Catholic family from Puerto Rico, the American tradition of Santa Claus and his magical sleigh of reindeer from the North Pole that landed on roofs and climbed down chimneys to leave presents to good boys and girls around the world, was never really solidified in my mind. I don't think we weren't taught whether or not to believe in Santa, like I mentioned, we never missed the opportunity to rush outside to collect our goodies from our shoes at the start of Advent, but Christmas and Christmas Eve were celebrated differently in our home...

Christmas Eve was celebrated with midnight mass. Christmas day was never about presents or who gave who what. We usually exchanged a small gift or two but prepared for a day of celebration of the world's greatest birthday! Huge family, friends and never-ending food!

What’s known as the Epiphany - January 6th - is culturally our big gift-giving celebration - THREE KINGS DAY! Instead of milk and cookies for Santa, we leave boxes of grass and bowls of water next to our beds for the Wise Men’s camels to drink from their long voyages! Instead of Christmas trees, our gifts were found under the bed, usually unwrapped in the spirit of simplicity… We got our holiday gifts when it was said that Jesus received his. And yet our parents still created magic for us as they urged the boys in my grandmother’s farming neighborhood to ride their horses up and down the street leaving SURE proof along the roads that the Three Kings HAD indeed come to visit us!

As I grew older and started to question whether or not Nikolas and the Three Kings existed to shower us with gifts during the holidays, my parents never backed down from the true meaning of Christmas; the birth of Jesus Christ, the spirit of giving and supporting those less fortunate, and celebrating TRADITIONS.

My mother made sure when we were in grade school that we volunteered with local charities the week of Christmas. We would pick families with children our ages and we would go shopping for the same gifts we had wanted for ourselves all year long. As much as I remember how fun it was to run through the toy store like little elves, the sobering experience was going to the base commissary watching my mother fill shopping carts with basic household supplies and food. Always the conscientious shopper, I still hear her words echoing in my head when I'm going up and down the aisles shopping now, "always have rice, a couple cans of corn, Vienna sausages..." I always knew when things were getting a little tight at home - she would take left over rice and add a can of corn creating a beautiful display of color on the plate and enough food for all of us. Just like my grandmother, mom could come up with a meal from all the major food groups out of nothing in the cabinets until pay day! It was then a family event to wrap up all of our gifts and deliver them to our chosen family recipients, realizing that being Santa was the real holiday magic...

In her determination to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in us as we continue to celebrate in all of the holiday traditions of the places we’ve lived, I've learned that everyone can be Santa Claus, Nikolas, and the Wise Men if we all just have a little faith and BELIEVE!