Obama: A presidency from the eyes of an immigrant’s son

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Obama: A presidency from the eyes of an immigrant’s son

Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator

Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator

Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator

Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator

By Saket Rajprohat | Columnist

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So that’s it. After eight years, I’ll watch one of my greatest role models leave office this Friday.

I remember watching President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in my sixth grade classroom. Our teacher told us it was a moment we would never forget. I can’t say that I knew it then, but she was right. Electing our first African-American president was an important achievement, something our nation should be proud of. But it was not a victory that made us immune to our past mistakes, defeated Jim Crow throughout our nation or guaranteed further steps toward progress.

These past eight years have demonstrated that we repeat our mistakes easily. Time and again, Obama has faced opposition on a personal level, from the “birther” controversy to claims he secretly practiced Islam, far beyond anything his predecessors faced.

Through all of this Obama has stood as a symbol of inspiration and resilience. Facing great odds in his fight toward progress, he’s shown me that even when things do not play in your favor, it is important to always move forward.

I felt this inspiration first-hand when my mom was laid off from her job as a social worker in the midst of the 2009 recession. Life at home became tougher as a result. We were forced to watch our pockets more carefully, delaying our plans on buying a house, being sure to not overstep our bounds.  Newly unemployed, my mom joined the thousands of people who were qualified to work, but couldn’t find a job.

That same year, Obama introduced new, federally funded Pell Grants that were targeted toward people like my mom who were unable to find work and were willing to go to school to achieve a new degree. With the grant, my mom was able to keep her unemployment benefits and also go back to school without the worry of an unpayable burden. She’s been an assistant nurse now for the past five years.

Stories like this spread across the nation as we started to recover from the recession. I began to understand politics as a system wherein we convey our beliefs about how we should view and shape the world around us. If it helped my mom and people like her go back to work, then it was something I should seek to embrace.

This idea continued to build in me for the entire length of Obama’s presidency. In an address to last summer’s Democratic National Convention, the president emphasized his belief in an America where “we are stronger together — black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, young and old, gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag.” Inspired, I joined millions of my peers in the movement that had begun with the understanding that some people may have been attracted by different issues than me. But the collective cause that Obama stood for was much more than that.

As a first-generation American, I may have been more concerned about issues that surrounded my family dealing with fair treatment in the workplace or simply putting food on the table. But it soon became immensely more important to stand with my other brothers and sisters in their strife against the oppressive forces they faced, whether it affected me or not — we had to work together to succeed, or fail separately.

Obama helped me understand that my fate was inherently tied to the success of my peers’ fates. If I did not stand for the rights of everyone else, it would never be possible to achieve my own rights. I learned that we were stronger together.

And it was that mindset that propelled millions to join this past Democratic campaign, whether they supported Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. We wanted progress, so we stood by the creed Obama had set for our generation, that America was great because we come from all different backgrounds and upbringings and still stand together.

We realize that our faces and cultures are and forever will be a unifying mix of diversity and our freedom to express ourselves. We believe that anyone opposing that philosophy doesn’t understand the basis our country was founded on.

Obama helped me to understand that no one can ever tell me that this country is not mine. That simply because I have brown skin, a funny name and speak another language, doesn’t mean I am any less American than anyone else. And when Obama helped give an immigrant like my mom a second chance at a career, he gave her the chance to contribute her part to the American dream.

As cathartic as expressing my gratitude toward Obama in a column may be, all of us must take up the fight he has selflessly lead these past eight years in order to truly thank him. Join a campaign, start organizing events and leading student organizations, become a part of something bigger than yourself and your own problems.

It has been a difficult but inspiring eight years, but these next few years will be far worse if we cease to trek on the path of progress Obama has set us on. So let’s lace up our shoes and get to work.

Thanks, Obama.

 

Saket primarily writes on politics for The Pitt News.
Write to Saket at smr122@pitt.edu.

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