I guess it's time to come out of the closet. I'm a human being with sympathy and empathy for people of races and religions other than my own. I have a deep love for lands near and far; I won't use the word foreign as an adjective because under Bush the word has become synonymous with alien. I love the sound of language. I love the traffic jam of words I encounter on the streets of major cities and hubs across the world: the condensation of Welsh, the cadence of Arabic, the clatter of Pacific Rim languages, the bell-tone of Tuareg. I love this rotating sideshow of a planet; I’m a native of the Greatest Show On Earth.
I was just in Dubai for the holidays and it’s estimated that 40 different languages are spoken there on a daily basis. Every day I heard a smattering of Tagalog, Russian, Mandarin, Farsi, Amharic, Urdu, Malayalam, Swahili, and never mind the Arabic dialects. I love the dialects; my Arabic is so diluted by differing slang that in one conversation I can sound Hijazi (the Saudi Red Sea coastline), Yemeni, Egyptian, Lebanese, and Emirati. The Emiratis have the coolest way of saying “I’m fine” when you ask how are you? kaif halek? Zain, it rhymes with Jane.
I’ve never been ashamed of my multicultural qualities. However, the past eight years have been a wilderness for my sort. I do prefer pommes frites to freedom fries, dosas to pancakes for breakfast, injera to sourdough, saffron ice cream to mint chocolate chip, and even green tea to sweet tea. Was this something I advertised much over the past eight years? It wasn’t even conscious, a numbing that crept in unawares like trans fats hardening arteries. I was hardened. I shed not a tear from 2006-2008. There were many reasons for this, dying planet notwithstanding. My family suffered under Bush, I have a Saudi father and am a dual citizen. Bush’s actions, and inaction, continue to spread strife across a region that my family and I consider home. I mean the entire region, from North Africa through to Iran. Plus, we are Muslim which means we tithe, pay zakat. Every aspect of Arab/Muslim life came onto the Homeland security radar. If it didn’t happen to us, it happened to people we knew. What was natural became foreign, what was charity became evil, what was prayer became hate, what was a family name became ugly. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet? Not if your name is Hussein, just ask Obama.
These past few days I’ve been tearing up. This strange symptom began just after the election, and let me tell you the first few times it hurt. I knew a woman once who claimed she was allergic to her own tears; I thought it was bullshit until I stopped crying myself. Now I can’t stop blubbering because a strange thing is occurring, people seem to be caring. I seem to be caring. I care. I care about Obama’s daughters, I tear up when I see those beautiful confident girls, they seem genuine, remember genuine? What a contrast to the Stepford WASPS of the Republican administration. The plane crash on the Hudson: the actions of the pilot I would have written off as the media needing to sensationalize a story, a la John Wayne, but I was so moved by the fact that the captain cared because it’s practically an archaic human reaction. Look at the fat cats on Wall St, Condi Rice and her “birth pangs” of the new Middle East. That’s caring? Under Bush, caring reflected his “Christian”, compassionate conservative values, he held the monopoly on caring and boy, he didn’t want you to forget that. Over time you just accepted the hypocrisy, it was part of the protective shell that froze around me. Bush cared about the Iraqi people, the Afghani people, the Palestinian people, about New Orleans, about our soldiers.
Under Bush this country was an abuser and I was its spouse.
Enough! I recently published my first article under my full Arabic name. I wear my Islamic jewelry over, not under, my shirt when I travel. I look people in the eye when I say I’m Arab-American, and then I smile. Oh yes, that’s happening too, the smiling, often at the same time as the tears. It’s topsy-turvy to smile and cry and the same time. But, after the past eight years what’s up is really up and what’s down is firmly below my feet. On Tuesday, in some shape or form, I’ll be a part of Inauguration Obama in DC. I just want to walk the streets and take in the patchwork quilt of people that are typical of the crowds that are drawn to our new President. The entire world will be fabric in that quilt, watching as Barrack Hussein Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. What an America they will see.
I can’t help but think of the special edition ending of Star Wars: A New Hope, where we see the capitol planet of Coruscant for the first time. An evil empire has been defeated, the planet is jubilant; a collage of scenes is layered around the shot of the capitol. Many planets, and beings, simultaneously celebrate an ending, but more importantly, a beginning. Last year we had a Velvet Revolution in this country, if you were a Democrat in the state of Virginia you know this to be true. Tuesday I’ll begin a new chapter in my American life. I know I’ll be crying, I know I won’t be alone.