Surrounded by Irish, English, and Chilean friends, I watched the inauguration of America’s 44th president on the big screen of the sports bar at Teviot House, the student union building.
Watching the inauguration was like watching a rugby or football match. The room filled with boos as Bush walked onto the stage, then erupted into cheers and applause as Obama appeared, as if he were a the star forward of the home team. What’s interesting is that for most of the 200 students at the sports bar, this wasn’t their home team. Even though the university has thousands of American students, most of the people at Teviot were non-American.
I find it fascinating that such a large number of non-Americans feel so personally connected to Obama and this new administration. It is doubtful whether as many people watched the inaugurations in 2001 and 2005.
Even though I am thousands of kilometers away from the States, I have never felt more American — and most importantly, proud to be an American. Perhaps, I would have been swept by the same patriotism if I were back at home, but the source would not be the same. Here, my sense of pride stems largely from the knowledge that my peers who hail from all corners of the world are not just satisfied, but elated by the inauguration of our 44th president, a leader whom they believe is capable of implementing positive changes in the world. Like for many Americans, he embodies hope.
While I am skeptical and critical of this symbol, which too often is merely employed as a fashion statement or commodity, it is a powerful representation. I am still proud and hopeful, but I approach this inauguration with a critical awareness of the many challenges that lie ahead.
It remains to be seen whether Obama can translate the symbolic into something substantial, but we must always bear in mind that the beginning of real political change starts with transformations in representation.