The day I was proud to be American

I voted. My mother said I had to vote to cancel out my sister’s vote and then my mother will vote and cancel out my brother-in-law. My other sister will vote Democrat and so will my brother. So we’re two up in the immediate family. Obama wins hands down.

Over the phone a few months back I tried to explain to my Republican sister, who had considered Obama for a few fleeting moments before Sarah Palin entered the race, that the world wanted Obama. For the record, it was Palin’s acceptance speech that inspired this professional, upper-middle-class, suburban, married mother of two. ”I’m fired up!” she said to anyone who would listen.

I told her we needed to improve our foreign policy, that our international reputation was getting worse and worse. Obama was our chance for redemption, I explained. After all these years we might be able to be the good guys. If it was a global vote, he’d take the election, I said. ”Lucky that the world can’t vote, then,” my sister told me. Ah, spoken like the daughter of an immigrant. Our father would have been so proud.

But then, it was my fault for bringing it up. We can hardly contain our disdain for one another’s politics so, like religion, we usually just avoid the subject. We can’t even agree to disagree, so disgusted are we with one another’s position. After all, how did we actually come from the same womb? My mother drives her weathered Mercedes around LA, emblazoned with ”Peace is Patriotic” bumper stickers, her handwritten ”No More War” posters in the boot at the ready for her monthly Friends of the United Nations protests. Really. My sister should know better.

But this time my vote came down to more than mere family politics. Most of my days lived so far away from my native home for much of the past 15 years, I have spent on my back foot, passport in my back pocket, accent slightly muted, feeling like a pariah, like a white South African overseas during apartheid, ready with my explanation and my apologies, my desire to place a decent space between us and them. ”I’m from California,” I say. ”I didn’t vote them into power, I swear.”

But that day it was different. That day, I was proud to be American.

It wasn’t easy. I didn’t get my absentee ballot in time so I called the consulate in Johannesburg to see what I could do. Turned out I could download an emergency voter ballot and drive it over. But it had to be there the next day, and I had just started my new job and had to drop my daughter at school early and if I didn’t go in the morning, I wouldn’t be able to make it by the 4pm cut-off time because I had a meeting in the afternoon.

I knew if I didn’t do it I wouldn’t sleep until November 4. And if the Republicans won — I don’t care what the polls say, let us not so soon forget the Daily Mirror headline ushering in four more years of W: ”How could 59-million people be so dumb?” — I’d be apologising to my daughter for the rest of my life.

So I did it. I filled out the paper, put it in an envelope, dropped off my girl at nursery school, sat in traffic, drove to the Americans’ Killarney fortress, parked at the petrol station, got a muffin, walked across the street and sighed. Of course there was a queue. I asked the security guard where the voter drop box was and he ushered me past the people waiting for visas.

I went through the metal door and another guard took my envelope and rubbed some cotton over it, placed it on the X-ray conveyor belt — looking for anthrax? — and handed it back to me to slip in the cardboard box plastered with American flags. ”Go Obama!” I said as the envelope fell and I lifted my fist. The guards all smiled and laughed their approval. I was thrilled. After all, I was voting for them, too.

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Tanya Pampalone
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