Exactly four years ago, I stood with thousands of others newly minted Americans, and took my oath of citizenship. I listened to the judge instructing us on our new duties and privileges, I watched your speech on a mega-screen and, no doubt, I waved a little flag.
I had been eligible for American citizenship for quite some time but merrily lived in a state of non-belonging, my national identity watered down with every move, a citizen of the world. Until your second term started looming and I felt the need to remember, many years from now, the day I cast my vote for the first African-American President – I, who grew up in a country that had no people of any color other than white, where my only knowledge of slavery came from reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and watching the original Roots mini-series on Italian tv.
You made me want to be American.
I worked the phone banks for your campaign, where I was hurled insults and I had to listen to all manners of drivel; I donated some money (with the result I am still receiving way too many emails from your troops I don’t seem able to unsubscribe from) and, in exchange, I got to feel proud of my country and my President.
As a European child in the 1970s, U.S. Presidents were poorly contoured figures with a few qualifying characteristics: Jimmy Carter’s decency and peanuts; Ronald Reagan’s fixed smile and Alzheimer; Bill Clinton’s openness and shenanigans and both Bush’s dark periods. You waltzed into the Oval Office and restored dignity, integrity and gravitas to the Presidency.
We had our disagreements, you and I: I still believe a single-payer system would have been a better healthcare option but, then again, my European background has me immune to government meddling into my affairs when necessary. I would have preferred you had tackled some of your opponents more head on, earlier on, but it’s all in the past now and I am grateful for the intelligence, humanity and calmness you infused to your office, even in the face of so much obstructionism and vitriol.
As we are entering the most obnoxious electoral season in memory, one even the strongest of us will have a difficult time witnessing, and the media is busy assessing your legacy, I am already nostalgic for the eight years you gave us.
We are the same age you and I, with very little shared history. Yet, when I look at you and Michelle, the failures of our generation are wiped clean, and all I see are the battles fought and the dreams realized, the better future I imagined in my 20s. This will be the legacy you will leave in my personal, little world and, for that, I am so very grateful.
I hope your days as a private citizen will be filled with peace, courage and activism.
Thank you for your service.