Friday, November 07, 2008

"Only" in America?

As I've watched and listened to U.S. media commentary, especially after the election, something has nagged at me. This has indeed been an historic election, but in the United States we try to claim that we are the first to have historic elections. It can happen, we say, "only in America." I don't have links, but heard it from both Chris Matthews and Chris Wallace--if you google "obama only in america," you can get a feel for how broad the sentiment is.

In Latin America, I think of Evo Morales' impressively large victory in Bolivia in 2005, followed shortly by Michelle Bachelet's in Chile (remember that the U.S. has not yet elected a woman, unlike many other countries). What of Alberto Fujimori's 1990 election in Peru (will we see an Asian elected president of the United States?)? Or if we look at class, rather than race, there is no doubt that Lula's election in Brazil changed history--imagine an uneducated union activist running for president here.

It is truly remarkable that our president-elect is African American, and it says a lot about the progress being made in this country. But let us savor it without pretending that we're the only ones who have made such progress.


Miguel Centellas 10:55 AM  

I agree. One could also, of course, point to Nelson Mandela ...

Rather than "only in America," I think "not likely in Europe" is the more appropriate refrain.

Greg Weeks 12:06 PM  

Yes, I only used fairly recent Latin American examples. Historic elections of the oppressed, minorities, etc. globally would be a longer list.

Anonymous,  1:17 PM  

Glad you wrote this post. I agree 100%.

Anonymous,  2:35 PM  

Nice post.

Thanks for reminding us about these facts and putting Obama's hype into perspective and context.

Steven Taylor 3:29 PM  

I agree that we often get quite hyperbolic with the "only in America" bit, and I basically agree with you. Still, for the sake of argument and discussion I am going to take minor issue with, say, the Morales or even Mandela examples (amazing as they are). However, in both those cases, a repressed majority was finally able to elect a leader from their own group. The rather amazing thing about Obama is that he is from a previously repressed minority.

Can we think of another example of such a minority group coming to power? And I ask in all seriousness and curiosity.

To turn back to Latin America, I will say that it has been a region quite welcoming to the children of immigrants. The Fujimori example you noted, but there is also Menem in Argentina and Mockus (mayor of Bogota, twice) and I feel like I am forgetting someone.

Greg Weeks 3:42 PM  

The first to come to mind are Tutsi in Rwanda.

Manuel 4:07 PM  

Great post, I couldn´t agree with you more.

boz 7:03 PM  

Can we think of another example of such a minority group coming to power?

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a Sikh.

Anonymous,  10:08 AM  

After going to the Obama rally at UNC in May when he gave the "Only in America" bit I thought about Lula. It was one of many blog post ideas that never made it to text. So I'm very glad you wrote this post.

Anonymous,  8:35 AM  

Oh, I should add that when I heard Obama use the phrase he was talking about his mother and grandparents having to work hard and study to get ahead. So he framed it in terms of class mobility. Many others are of course using the phrase to talk about race.

Miguel Centellas 9:03 AM  

Can we think of another example of such a minority group coming to power?

Absolutely. Let's see:
Carlos Menem (from a Syrian Muslim family) elected president of Argentina in 1989
Alberto Fujimori (of Japanese descent) elected president of Peru in 1990
Jamil Mahuad (from a Lebanese-German family) elected president of Ecuador in 1998.

Those are just off the top of my head.

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