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.