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Obama and My Mama

Yesterday my mother texted me (yes, she’s in her late fifties and she texts, pretty cool), to say that the Obama campaign chose her and her friends to sit on stage behind Obama during his speech at a rally in Las Vegas.

The matriarchs of my family have a legacy of visiting Sin City in hopes of a better tomorrow. My grandmother was a gifted Gin Rummy player who put my mother through college on her annual Vegas tournament winnings. She was always one woman among many male professional gamblers, but she always seemed to make her way to the limelight as a champion.

My mother’s visit to Las Vegas was also in a quest to better the future of her children. But because my grandmother had worked so hard to ensure my mother had a quality college education, which then afforded her a successful career, my mom didn’t have to fight her way to Vegas the way grandmother did. She took some days away from work and the weekend to join her two best friends from seventh grade, close bonds that formed when John F. Kennedy was president, to volunteer for the Obama Nevada Campaign.

Just as Kennedy had inspired my mother in junior high school to pursue a career of service to her community, Barack Obama has given my mother hope once again that her own children can experience the sense of optimism that she felt as a teenager when Kennedy was elected.

My mother had been planning for months to spend the last two weekends before the election in Nevada to convince Jewish and other white, middle-aged women, like my mother and her friends, to vote for Obama.

Mom, a natural-born public speaker and talented persuader, never thought twice about fulfilling, what she sees as her responsibility to the campaign, the country and her children, by talking to the people she knows best and whose votes happen to be among the ones Obama needs most.

My mom understands a lot about persuading people to look beyond their prejudices and fears for the sake of the greater good. Shortly after Kennedy’s assassination, my mother’s parents moved her out of her racially diverse community in south central Los Angeles and into “the Valley.” Anyone from L.A. understands exactly what that means. It’s devastating for a highly social 15-year-old girl whose entire social life exists in the city. Her parents bought a white house on Blanco Ave., bought a new white Chevy Impala, a white poodle, and sent her to a new all-white high school where her homeroom teacher’s name was Mr. White and her vice principal’s name was Mr. Whitehead.

As a prelude to her migration to Berkeley, my mother started dating some guys who weren’t quite white enough for my grandparents. And with that, Mom began refining the art of persuasion. Then she met my father, a foreigner. Within a few short years, my mother converted my grandmother from a fearful, prejudiced suburban mother, to a proud, loving and inclusive mother-in-law. Even after my parents divorced, and until the day she died, Grandma treated my father like a son. My dad called her “Mom” and couldn’t have loved a parent more. And when my sister and I came along, it was hard to imagine a grandparent who was more loving, attentive and proud. (But of course, that’s what they all say!).

When my mom took a break from canvassing on Saturday to attend the Obama rally, the campaign approached her and her friends to sit behind Obama on stage while he spoke to the Las Vegas crowd. A publicity stunt to win over the Hillary demographic, sure, but it’s working. Obama has more white Americans supporting him than any democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. [www.politico.com]

–Jamie Wong