¡Obamonos! How Heritage Shapes Hope.

As a young boy, born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas side of the US-Mexico border, I harbored a dream. Every day after school at the local Catholic elementary, my Mom would ferry my brothers and me across the river to visit my grandparents in Mexico. My dream was to build bridges. Not because the ones we crossed were invariably congested with traffic, but because I knew instinctively the beauty, power and life that thrives when diverse cultures meet, communicate, and form deep and rewarding bonds. At my grandparents house I played with my cousins from the Mexico side of the border. Trading stories, I discovered how nuanced views of the world can be, depending on a few degrees of separation. When I told my primos my Texas version of the Battle of the Alamo their eyes widened in horror! The version told by the nuns in Mexico was completely different! In Texas, the Mexicans were reviled as bullies that massacred a brave handful of heroes. In Mexico, the Texans were resented as pawns for imperialist American expansion. We argued until we were blue in the face. Then we played, laughed, and slept three to a bed after our Abuelita regaled us with bedtime stories about her childhood during the Mexican Revolution.

My Latino experience – while uniquely personal – shares roots and similarities with those of other Latinos, and countless children and grandchildren of all immigrants. For me, key learnings from that experience include: the need to coexist with others of different backgrounds and mindsets, the drive to understand and respect those differences, and the ability to dialogue effectively by charting common ground. The experience also inspired me – as I sat for hours in the school library absorbing the biographies of American heroes like Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy – to acquire the skills to build those bridges between peoples and cultures while enriching the fabric of our American nation. At age seven, living in a dusty border town, my dream crystallized. I’d be the first in my family to make my way North, attend Harvard, and someday become President so I could make the world a better place. Kids laughed. My parents smiled demurely, sighed and patted me gently on the back. But luckily for me, they also encouraged me, telling me that in America anything was possible. After all, that’s why they were here, to give me that chance.

That’s why – at the most personal level – my Latino experience inspires my enthusiasm for Barack Obama as President. His message of hope is anchored on the concept of change spawned by an evolving world view of how people should get along and work together to build a better future for all. That simple vision is universal. It can be applied at home and abroad. And when applied effectively, the interrelation between those two spheres will have an exponentially positive effect on the American economy. The son of an immigrant and product of a biracial marriage, Obama understands a thing or two about having to work hard to earn the respect of others, about having to swallow one’s own cultural pride for the sake of a higher cause, about having to collaborate with very diverse parties with often conflicting views to achieve common goals. In a nutshell, that’s what America must do to reengage the global community, restore our respectability and leadership in the world, and successfully realign our resources to better serve our citizenry as well as mankind.

On a more practical level, while learning how to build bridges at Harvard –earning my honors degree in Government with a specialization in International Relations and my Masters in Public Policy concentrating on International Trade and Finance – I gained a keen appreciation for the level of intellect, training and discipline required to transform vision into action. Obama embodies that ideal. His policies on foreign relations, health care, education, trade and immigration will yield a positive impact for America. And while I believe Latinos should vote based on what is best for the entire nation, I also feel strongly that in Obama’s case this coincides with what disproportionately impacts Latinos. Obama wishes to leverage a new brand of diplomacy to end needless wars on foreign soil. Given that Latinos are disproportionately represented in our military, this will spare Latino lives and families great anguish. As the trillions of dollars squandered on war are reinvested in our economy, we will all benefit. Since Latinos are the least insured group of Americans and suffer from severe health disparities, universal health coverage will benefit us and our exploding population base comprised largely of young children. Since Latinos – who tragically boast the highest drop out rates – depend disproportionately on public schools for opportunity and to integrate into our democracy, we will benefit from Obama’s commitment to reform public education without depleting resources by funding Republican-supported voucher, tax-credit and privatization alternatives which benefit a few at great sacrifice to the many. Finally, while Obama and McCain hold similar views regarding the need for comprehensive immigration reform, I believe that – based on his style of thinking – Obama will approach trade and immigration reform in a manner which acknowledges the systemic nature of international relations and economics, including the interrelated movement of goods and people. These are complex challenges and they require intricate solutions to work. But at the same time, they require visionary leadership and inspiration to both begin and endure.

Building a bridge takes a plan. It takes skill. It requires great knowledge of the terrain on both sides of the chasm. But most of all it takes the vision to harbor hope and faith that it’s worthwhile to brave a change and cross to the other side with an open heart, a receptive mind, and an oustretched hand. Obama has reassured me that this is truly feasible. That it’s more than a dream. He’s a reaffirmation of everyone’s aspiration to someday contribute to our great nation regardless of how humble our origins may be. He’s a message to every American and every citizen of the world – Latino, Black, White, Asian, Native American, you name it – that in this country anything is possible. It all begins with a dream, and in this case a vote. Un sueño. Tú voto. ¡Obamonos!

Rudy Ruiz is living his dream as President of Interlex, one of the nation’s leading cause-related marketing firms, and as a published author, columnist and Managing Editor of the online multicultural sociopolitical commentary and news site RedBrownandBlue.com.

It’s Not Right To Head in the Wrong Direction.

You don’t have to disagree with a person’s morals to disagree with their politics. You don’t have to be an atheist to believe that the government should not legislate morality. You do have to understand how the concept of separation of church and state is crucial to protecting our First Amendment right to freedom of religion. And you also have to understand that the path to preserving America’s position of leadership in the world is not to go back to basics by embracing an ever-simpler global view driven by religion and morality.

This is what is ultimately frightening about the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket that took shape at the Republican National Convention. Their appeal was all based on values and personality, with our society and the world left to infer what policies might flow from those emotionally conveyed attributes.

Sadly, the Republicans always play the wedge moral issues which typically cannot be legislated anyway, due to lack of the sufficient majorities either in Congress or on the Supreme Court, or both. They exploit these issues to divide and polarize the electorate to their advantage because they count on more people voting with their hearts than with their minds. Then once they win the election they to get to work on the policies they can truly affect, which in recent history have led to helping the rich get richer, waging a modern-day Crusade in the Middle East, and lining the pockets of oil companies and defense contractors, all the while ignoring the needs of most middle- and lower-income Americans in terms of health care, education, retirement, housing and disaster relief, not to mention the protection of our environment.

Case in point: Abortion is a moral issue. When life begins and when it can — and should –be protected by law is a moral question. None of us have the answer, except for God. And under the Constitution every American has a right to worship their own God in their own way. We also have a right to not practice a religion. This is in very simple terms why the government cannot and should not make abortion illegal. The question of whether – and when — it is immoral to end a pregnancy should be up to each religion and each woman to deliberate and decide based on their own beliefs and the circumstances. What the government should do is what it has already done, set up practical parameters for regulating the appropriateness of abortion based on objective medical and scientific opinions, leaving subjective religion and morality out of the equation as much as possible.

So, should we elect our President based on what they believe morally about how we should live our lives? Absolutely not. Rather, we should choose the next Presidential ticket based on what they are going to do to improve those lives. Yes, I admire Sarah Palin as a human being for keeping her baby even though she knew it would face a lifelong intellectual disability in Down’s Syndrome. I also think that choice would be much more daunting for a pregnant and unwed teen without parental and financial support. In the end, though – in keeping with our nation’s laws and founding ideals – being a moral one, that choice should be made in private by the individual affected in consultation with their closest family and spiritual or moral advisors. Otherwise, the separation of church and state collapses into the legislation of morality by the religious majority. Even though I am a Christian, I do not believe I have the right in this nation to legislate how those of other religions or those without a religion should act on personal moral issues.

Ultimately, if we elect people that feel compelled and empowered to use the nation’s highest political office and our government’s resources to enforce their own absolutist moral views, then what is to stop them from extending that authority to how we conduct ourselves on the global stage? What will stop us from waging war in the name of God against our enemies, to bring them to moral justice? What will render us different from the theocracies we criticize and even from our original mother country, whom we ostensibly broke away from to ensure greater religious and moral freedom for our citizens? If we believe we are acting in the name of God, then how much easier will it be to circumvent the principles and laws that we have governed by successfully, such as the writ of habeas corpus, individual rights to privacy, human rights and anti-torture conventions? It’s a slippery slope that McCain and Palin stand upon.

At the RNC, McCain proclaimed he and Palin would take America “back to basics.” That concept is at the core of their religious, moral, absolutist appeal, whether it’s on issues like abortion or the war in Iraq. That ideal of simplicity is at the core of their attack on Obama’s more nuanced and complex vision. Appealing to conservative Christian mores is as basic as you can get, because you are speaking to the child in each of us, to the basics of how we were raised and what we were taught was good versus evil. But the reality in our world is there are often many rights and many wrongs. Good is often in the eye of the beholder. People don’t like to hear that. They like things simple. They find it hard to accept that sometimes America has been the bad guy. And it’s why in the past they’ve chosen simple and basic over complex and nuanced. It’s the big risk again this Fall. If as a nation we want to keep things simple, and basic, if we don’t want the headaches and time investment that come with trying to earnestly grapple with complex and systemic situations to develop strategic policy solutions, then we’ll buy the simplistic moral appeal of McCain and Palin. Those who do so may feel virtuous, relieved and liberated for a moment in casting their vote. They will gladly wash their hands of the next four years’ challenges, having hired someone who doesn’t believe that it’s above their “pay grade” to make the big moral decisions for America. But in the long run, America will suffer for the choice because the world we live in is not basic and simple. It is not one in which one absolute view of right and wrong can dominate the entire globe. It is a world in which we have to co-exist with diverse peoples, cultures and religions. And if we want to be a world leader we have to lead with a vision, ideas, and sound policies on the economy, international relations, energy and the environment that others can embrace as their own. Otherwise, we might not only go back to basics, we might also become decreasingly free at home and increasingly irrelevant around the world. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t feel “right” about taking our nation in that direction.