My parents always emphasized that although I was ethnically Chinese, my citizenship was American because I was born in America, “You can even be president someday—unlike us—because you are a natural-born citizen.”
In school, we learned the three requirements to become president of the United States were to be a natural-born citizen, at least thirty-five years old, and have resided in the United States for the past fourteen years. Although thirty-five seemed sooooo old, my friends Gregory, Tony, and I—dreamers and idealists—began to make plans for the 2000 presidential elections before we even graduated from high school.
My oldest daughter M was in kindergarten at the University of Michigan Children’s Center during the 2000 elections. She learned the same three requirements to become president of the United States. She read that Al Gore liked cats and George W. Bush liked dogs. The school held an election, voting booths and all, in which Independent candidate Bernie the Bear came in a very close second. They held a recount to be sure. Then everyone dressed up in fancy ballgowns to drink sparkling cider and dance at the Inaugural Ball.
Another daughter was in kindergarten during the 2004 elections.
However, by the time my son, Little Brother, began kindergarten in 2008 and came home to excitedly tell me the three requirements to become president of the United States and that he was going to become president when he turned thirty-five (and take me to live at the White House with him, sweet boy), I was feeling a little less enthusiastic, a little more cynical.
After working in ethnic new media for 10 years and watching American sentiment about immigrants and minorities deteriorate, especially after 9/11, I was not so sure if it really was true that my multiracial Asian American child could become president someday. I cringed to think how naive we had been to think that we—Gregory was multiracial Japanese/Spanish American, Tony was African American, I was Chinese American and a girl—could have seriously thought that any of us could be elected president of the United States. Sure, the Constitution said we could, but…
The Sunday before the election, I forgot about it and remarked to a friend a little too loudly at Sweetwaters Cafe, “Oh, is there an election coming up?” About half the cafe glared at me. “Hey, I already voted absentee!”
I realized that I although I did the minimum—I voted, I helped a friend get an absentee ballot, I wrote about voter registration and got out the vote, I hosted one candidates forum, I might have put up a lawn sign—I had not let myself become invested in Obama.
Although I told my children that candidate Obama showed that they could do anything—he was multiracial, a person of color, had Asian family, and loved shave ice in Hawaii, all like them—privately, I did not want to get my hopes up. I did not want to get excited about Obama. I did not really believe it was possible. I did not want to be disappointed.
I went to sleep on election night at the usual time, forgetting to check election results. I did not even know Obama had won until morning.
It was not until after he was safely inaugurated that I slowly began to let myself believe.
At the University of Michigan Children’s Center’s 2008 Inaugural Ball, Little Brother’s good friend Atea admired his coat and tie, “You look like a president!” Earlier that morning, he had remarked that he looked like “a perfesser” (only in Ann Arbor), but finally, I could agree, that yes, he did look like a president and smiled as he and Atea began making their presidential plans for 2038.