Dear President Obama:
My family is coming to see your family. You might not be able to spot us easily -- after all, how could you distinguish our three upturned faces from the million others that will stretch down the National Mall? But that's OK: We're not expecting you to wave at us (though I bet my seven-year-old will wave at you).
Considering that we've never met you and we won't during this visit, it might seem kind of crazy that we pinched pennies and scrambled to pull off this trip. But we have good reason: Whether or not you realize it, you invited us.
Let me explain. When I was a boy, I moved among multiple worlds, an experience you know well. My parents were of different ethnicities -- my mother a Scotch-Irish farm girl, my father a newly-arrived Cuban immigrant; they divorced when I was young, and my life in rural Maine bore little resemblance to the rare summer weeks my brother and I spent in Miami's Little Havana. I was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, but I was also gay, which I knew at age six. Running like an undercurrent through all my identities was the subject of class: My family was on welfare during most my childhood; even in our best years, we were among the working poor.
Belonging to so many Americas meant being privy to how people in one part of my world viewed those in another, as well as how their personal views determined who I was to them. One year I might be called "spic" to my face, and then another year kicked out of my college Latino club for not speaking Spanish. Time and again, I've heard churchgoing friends call gay people abominations, and I've also listened as gay peers derided Christians as hateful bigots. And from all sides, I've heard plenty about welfare queens and how the poor leech off the system.
I knew all along that I was many things in one person, and that I would never perfectly align with a single identity, no matter how often it seemed that others needed me to. I've proved and disproved a thousand stereotypes in my life so far, but only one title -- American -- has ever come close to encompassing all of my experiences. Your biography, Mr. President, leads me to believe that you know what I mean.
My daughter knows, too. Mixed race of African-American descent, with pigment like mine and hair texture like yours, she is already aware how comparatively few people there are who mirror her at her school, on the TV shows she watches or in the pages of toy catalogs. But she also knows that she is loved, valued and considered beautiful in her own skin.
As you might imagine, when you were elected president for the first time, we were thrilled to see your family in the White House. It was especially moving to see your daughters on the big day. Never before had girls like mine been able to see girls like yours in a context like that. But this time around, your election meant even more for our particular family.
No sitting president had ever endorsed marriage equality before; indeed, most of your predecessors had not dared to risk aligning themselves with civil liberties for gays and lesbians. You took some time getting to your same-sex marriage endorsement, but the result when you did was profound: Your words heartened and validated hundreds of thousands of families who already exist, and who have endured years of recrimination and condemnation from public figures. Your embrace of marriage equality was your invitation to my family.
Your inaugural program extends the invitation further. When Myrlie Evers-Williams offers the invocation, becoming the first woman and non-clergyman to do so, she will also be there as a women of faith like my grandmother and mother. When Richard Blanco speaks as the first openly gay person and first Latino to serve as the inaugural poet, it will layer historic first upon historic first for the country, but for me, it will also represent the intersection of my story and my father's. And the roster goes on from John Roberts to Beyoncé and more, defining our nation by uniting seemingly strange bedfellows: immigrants, people of multiple races, gays and straights, the devoutly religious and the secular, those who have tasted poverty and those who know great success.
That is really why we came to see you. Every four years, the multitudes flood the Capitol to stand with their president on this day, but never before has a president invited so many kinds of Americans to join him up on the stage. Your personal elevation to this pulpit four years ago was progress; your choice to elevate the rest of us with you this time is hope made into action. How could we possibly stay away?
Someday, my daughter will say she was there for your inauguration. She might well complain about the hours spent standing in the cold, or the crowds and the lines, but she'll (and we'll) always remember the day we came to see your family. And how, for the first time, we were invited to feel that your house, America's house, is our home, too.
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