Demographers say that by 2042, more than half of
Americans will have non-white ancestry, primarily Latino, Asian or
African. The inauguration of Barack Obama, the son of a black Kenyan
father and a white American mother, will be the most dramatic sign yet
of the country’s growing cultural and ethnic diversity. Nowhere is that
truer than in New York, a city of immigrants and their children.
A Class Act
I want you to pretend for a moment that I am Mark, or Johannes…"
Julie Mann’s class at Newcomers High School is acting out scenes from
the autobiography of a boy growing up under apartheid in South Africa.
The Queens, New York public high school is one of 12 in the city
designed to serve new immigrants. The students here are from China,
Nepal, Bangladesh, Colombia, Yemen, Egypt, and Haiti and other
countries. Many say they are hopeful and happy about Barack Obama’s
election, both for the sake of their new country, and for what it means
for their own lives.
"I won’t say strangest, but it is one of
the most historical elections in America, really ground-breaking," says
a young man from Bangladesh. "I think if an African-American [can] be
the president, that is history change," a Chinese classmate agrees. "As
a black man, I can have more chance, and I am dedicated to being
someone, something important in the United States," says a Haitian
student. "I was thinking that maybe [now] an Asian-American can be
president," a Bangladeshi girl offers.
Building a dignified life in America
few blocks away from the high school, Colombian-born Nora Chaves works
at "Make the Road," a social justice organization that helps Latino
immigrants. She has two children, and says that’s why Obama’s election
was so important to her. "I decided to stay in the United States
because he won," Chaves says. "I was really doubtful about what was
going to happen. Because my children were born here, they are U.S.
citizens, but they are Latinos." Now, Chaves says, she feels very
differently: "[I think now] that immigrants have a chance to really
build America and to build dignifying lives in this country."
Obama presidency, renewed hope
frankly, we are an immigrant country, " says Mohammad Razvi. "I mean,
other than the native Indians, everyone is an immigrant here." Mr.
Razvi runs an organization in nearbyBrooklyn
that serves South Asian immigrants. Born in Pakistan, he is raising his
own children in the U.S. "I have five kids, and I’ve explained to them,
‘Look, how great of a change. Now actually America is what it is
supposed to be.’ All my children were born here in the United States,
and it’s a great feeling that one day perhaps they can also be elected
Obama, many firsts
of the students in Julie Mann’s class at Newcomers High School are
naturalized citizens yet, but they say Obama’s election speaks to them
equally: "Because he take the money from the war and put it in
education," says a Chinese girl. A Yemeni boy says, "This election was
about all the people, not just whites or African-Americans, but
immigrants, as well." "And like when he said that we are not a red
state, blue state, we are United States – that makes me feel very
encouraged about him," the girl from Bangladesh says. "And I feel like
he’s the one who can unite all of us."
As president, Barack
Obama will be many firsts: the first biracial president, the first with
a foreign-born parent from outside the British Isles or Canada, the
first with African and Muslim heritage. And for many immigrants, he
will also be the first U.S. president with a story not unlike their