America is a special place

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., chatted Wednesday with Antoinette Sitole, sister of Hector Pieterson, during his tour of the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto, South Africa. The picture they are looking at shows child protesters gunned down by police 30 years ago in Soweto.

I complain a lot about America, about its international policy, and the fact that lately most visitors to this country have felt threatened and at risk of being mistreated because of their religion or nationality. I was in Europe last week, and it was almost sad to see everyone talk down about the US. Many people around the world are starting to feel that the current crises in the world, especially the most violent ones, are completely a product of the American dream for a hegemony, and its satellite state Israel’s, quest for taking all the land away from Palestinians.

But that is not what I want to talk about today. I just read about Senator Barak Obama’s visit back to his ancestral home in Kenya, and was reminded of what goodness this country has to offer to those it welcomes with open arms. Sen. Obama is such a positive image for the US to show to the rest of the world. Son of an immigrant from a small rural village in a poor African country rose to become a member of the Senate in this country, a front-line leader in one of its major political parties. Where else could that happen easily?

Better education, better jobs, and political and economic stability — those are all reasons people from around the world choose to immigrate to the United States. Much like Sen. Obama, America has provided so much opportunity to so many people, including myself. America has been called a melting pot, and I believe its a place where one is able to preserve their culture and roots if one so desires, while integrating into the American dream at the same time. I have now lived in this country for 11 years, and I would not be honest if I didn’t say that in many ways I have enjoyed more freedom in this country than I think I would in most other parts of the world, including Pakistan. It has been a roller coaster ride at times, but friends in this country have helped me ride out the bumps along the way.

Earlier Saturday, thousands of well-wishers lined pot-holed roads to greet Obama as he began a journey to his ancestral home, Nyangoma-Kogelo, a tiny village in the rural west where his father grew up herding goats and attending classes in tin-roofed schools.

“I just want to say very quickly that I am so proud to come back home,” Obama told the cheering crowds. “It means a lot to me that the people of my father, my grandfather, are here in such huge crowds.”

His father, also named Barack Obama, won a scholarship to a university in Hawaii, where he met and married Obama’s mother. The two soon separated, however, and Obama’s father returned to Kenya and worked as a government economist.

His father died in a car crash in 1982, leaving three wives, six sons and a daughter. This was Obama’s third visit, but his first since becoming senator of the U.S. state of Illinois in January 2005. His last visit was in 1995.

Obama said he was looking forward to seeing his grandmother and uncle, who still live in the village, but that the trip was more than just a family reunion. Both his grandmother and uncle have visited him in the United States, and will get other chances to see him, he said.

Yes, it sucks to sometimes be treated as a second grade person at the airports, or be stared up and down by folks who still haven’t overcome their issues with people of color, or be singled out in discussions as the representative of Islam (and ofcourse the crazy fanatics who would bomb the US). It is also difficult to be a resident in a country that is not exactly liked in many places of this world, and to travel internationally when getting back into your permanent place of residence (USA) is the most difficult part of the trip. Most importantly, it is sad, really sad, to see how the ignorant politics of a few people has thrown this nation at war with the rest of the world, and how its crazy antics regarding Israel are leading to so much death and destruction in the world.

I am not ignoring all the issues above, and others, but I am thinking today of the good that the US does for its own people, for visitors to this country, and for others around the world. More importantly, there is also so much potential for it to do more, and the responsibility lies on all of us to encourage it to do that good. From international politics to international donor aid, support for democracy, restrain from building of military industrial complexes, environmental protection, and access to technology to world’s under-privileged. SO much to work on. Sen. Obama is taking on the AIDS pandemic in his home country, and its time for others to also take on other important issues head on. Example, poverty, illiteracy and fundamentalism in Pakistan?

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