THE BLOG

Welcome Back, America. We've Missed You.

12/14/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On exactly the opposite side of the globe from Chicago, the tropical noonday sun outside my window juxtaposed with televised images of your happy midnight, I watched you crying in Grant Park, people of America, your hearts set ablaze by your new President's eloquence, by the poetry of his improbable victory, by your sudden surge of hope that the ship of state could right its course in the wearying year to come.

The electricity in that Illinois air released something in me, too, something less than rational, deep as the movement of a tectonic plate.

It's been a weepy week, but one of reflection and rare honesty.

I feel that at long last I can admit how much America means to me. I feel for the first time in years I can say that I love the United States of America. Because I do. But for eight years, I couldn't say those words. I couldn't think those thoughts.

For eight long years, there were so many reasons to be angry with your government, and every week brought new ones. The reasons mounted without cease, the ultimate "known unknowns": I didn't know what the Bush administration would do to upset me the following week, but I did know there would always be something. There would always be some new transgression that would outrage me as a proud South-East Asian, as a liberal, as a Muslim, as an artist, as an educated member of the urban middle class, as a lover of justice and a hater of cruelty, or simply as a human being.

The consolations of your patriots weren't available to me. I could not, like millions of decent Americans who opposed George W. Bush, slap a "Regime Change Begins At Home" bumper sticker on the car, yet sing "America the Beautiful" with redoubled feeling.

The gulf between the ideal America and the real America was widening. Suffused with sorrow, I fell into that gap.

For eight years, I did my best to forget that I loved America. I drove that thought to the back of my mind, as did so many of my friends and colleagues.

And yet, for those of us in Malaysia and Singapore earning our living in the arts, the media, academia and NGOs - for my peculiar tribe of global citizens - the culture and ideas of America were in our bloodstream. We could no more turn our back on them than we could turn our back on our own inhalations and exhalations.

We could not close our eyes and ears. And so your achievements stayed with us, America, and made those years all the more painful. The glow of a Rothko; the energy of a Pollock; the neon-bright funk of a Warhol; the spare beauty of Emily Dickinson's words and the looping, loping garrulousness of J.D. Salinger's; sublime Miles Davis and clever-clever Sondheim; the delicate shuffling humanity of Neil Simon and the muscularity of David Mamet; the loony-but-true universes of David Sedaris and Garry Trudeau.

Under the cover of equatorial night my friends and I drove over potholes, B.B. King or Yo-Yo Ma or R.E.M. blasting from the car stereo, the cranked-up attitude of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson behind our eyeballs; and, on the DVD player at home, pirate copies from a Kuala Lumpur street vendor of all your latest movies, before they opened in Topeka or Rapid City.

In the clubs, when House of Pain told us to jump, we jumped; our aging aunts line danced in prim matriarchal rows to "Achy Breaky Heart"; with our sweaty arms all of us dutifully spelt out the letters Y, M, C, and A.

Late at night, when our own cities went to sleep, we knew New York to be the capital of the world, and we felt, as you feel, the gaping wound of Ground Zero.

We couldn't claim it as our own, though. At a certain point a line was drawn. You had your country, and we had ours. But your ideas still mattered to us.

When a lanky unknown named Barack Obama galvanized the 2004 Democratic National Convention with his keynote address, we listened closely to what he claimed to be the true genius of America, "an insistence on small miracles":

"That we can tuck in our children at night and know that they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted, at least most of the time."

We looked around our own part of the world, and we wanted those small miracles for our own countries. We wanted them so badly for ourselves, America, that it hurt all the more that you could enjoy them at home and yet behave in the way that you did abroad.

And now regime change has come to you. That self-proclaimed "skinny guy with a funny name" will soon be installed as your new President. Do not doubt how much it means to us.

My friends and I cried as we watched Mr. Obama's victory speech in Grant Park. Once again, we are ready to say that we love you, America, for all that you have meant to us in the past, and for all that you can be to the world in the future.

Be strong, but use that strength for good. Think things through. Talk to the world. Treat us with respect. Live up to your own ideals. Value the dignity of our lives as much as you value those of your own citizens. Walk tall, but let us walk with you.

Thank you for coming back, America. We've missed you.