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Campaign Journal: Race Matters in Nevada

10/27/2008 03:21 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Padma Atluri is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.

I've been driving for change straight to Las Vegas. That's what Californians do, when neighborhood phone banking ceases to feel like enough.

Maybe because there's more satisfaction in getting an unanswered door rather than a robotic machine recording at the end of what seems like a never ending ring. Or maybe because once that ominous door is in fact opened, you can get a real, 3D if you will, glimpse of your fellow American.

I was a little nervous about knocking on doors-- only because a fellow volunteer, just days before, warned me of the racial divide in Nevada. "They don't like Mexicans..." she whispered on the down low. Clearly she was talking about the Non Mexicans, and I had a feeling that of the hundred doors I would be hitting on this weekend, I'd be meeting some of them as well.

"...so who knows how they'll feel about Obama," she went on to say. I nodded, taking this in, desperately trying to dismiss this from my consciousness. After all, stereotypes beget stereotypes. And that's not what this campaign (at least Obama's) is about.

As an Indian-American I understood people seeing race before anything else. How else could I explain the overwhelming number of conversations over the years, with strangers and friends alike, that began with " You know, I had Indian food for dinner last night." But I digress...

In Nevada, I wasn't worried that people would see me as an ethnicity other than Indian or American. I was worried about coming face to face with a repeated level of prejudice that would prove some pundits right. That America might not be as far along as we think--or hope-- she is. Race matters. And quite frankly even I needed it to matter enough by getting Obama into office.

So I tried not to read into the few slammed doors or even the, "It's none of your business who I am voting for" remarks. After all, I met a number of receptive voters that craved literature as much as they too craved change.

That's why I was excited to meet Mary. She was welcoming, seemingly progressive, and a Barbara Bush look alike at seventy-six. Though a former Republican, she immediately told me to save my packets on the issues; she was already on board with Obama. In fact she had been from the beginning. Her enthusiasm excited me and so I lingered, talking long enough to learn she had convinced her children to rid their McCain allegiances and go with the "good man." And she was feeling hopeful that Americans would take her lead, until a recent trip to the beauty parlor left her appalled. She overheard some of her fellow seniors refusing to vote for Obama because of the naked truth: he's black.

When I asked her if she said anything to them. She shook her head. "You can't change people like that." I deflated instantly, and she saw it--leading Mary to reassure me. "Don't worry, honey. Obama's got my vote." Not everyone's like those close-minded women. "Look, I'm not racist." I couldn't help but smile. At last a perfect moment in an otherwise trepidatious weekend. If I had only left just then.

But Mary couldn't stop herself. "I mean I like everyone," she went on to say. "Except Mexicans."

And then it happened. My heart sank as she shrugged. Even though she tried to convince me it was justified--that she just hated her cake mix directions being printed in Spanish--I knew what I knew all along. Even before my pre-Nevada warning. As a country we're nowhere near where we need to be in the war on racism.

But a canvasser, this canvasser, can only hope we're getting closer. If not One Mind, then One VOTE at a time.

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