I’m not an American but I’ve certainly enjoyed the political theatre this last couple of years. Yesterday morning I was walking through a hotel lobby in San Jose at 9AM (noon in Washington) and there on the big TV in the restaurant was the inauguration. The lobby had emptied as the staff crowded in to watch. Then everyone joined in a big round of applause. I was touched, but it was complicated.

You see, in Silicon Valley, the entrepreneurs and engineers, while mostly men, are a mixed bag ethnically, and their language is English. But the people who work the reception desks and wash the floors and bring the coffee and provide security, their skins are all black and brown (no whites); they have heavy accents and talk lots of different languages, some I can’t even identify, to each other. It’s been that way long as I can remember. This apparently-fixed class/race background is one of the things that bothers me about the Valley.

I think the applause was maybe a little louder from the (standing) hotel employees than the (sitting) business breakfasters.



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From: Michael (Jan 21 2009, at 10:14)

I've been enjoying your writing for a long time now, but this is the first time something here struck me. You've captured the true beauty of the moment, I think.

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From: walter (Jan 21 2009, at 10:16)

A most interesting observation! I suppose part of what you observed is a class of people hungry for change and hope, and the other not in need as much....

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From: Bob Aman (Jan 21 2009, at 14:02)

I have to agree with the truth of this observation. As a relatively successful Caucasian male, I'm acutely aware of the unfairness of it all. I voted for Obama, not out of a sense of guilt, but because it is absolutely high time for a transformation in the attitudes of our country. We need to stop thinking so much about what will benefit ourselves most, and start thinking about what is right, and good, and fair. Obama clearly understands that need, and I think he has the charisma necessary to drive the point home.

That and he was a way better candidate than the other guy. I can't tell you how glad I am that the right man for the job actually got it.

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From: Nicola Larosa (Jan 21 2009, at 14:09)

> I'm not an American

You're not? Then what is Canada now part of, the Arctic Polar Circle? If you're not an American, possibly I'm not European either; then what am I?

And who knows, maybe one day we'll not even be fully human anymore, just some "illegal aliens", as many already are.

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From: Carl Hartman (Jan 21 2009, at 14:36)

Had you arrived on our shores 100 years ago, you would have witnessed the same thing. The skin may have been different colors, but the languages spoken just as diverse, and the desire for freedom and a new way of life just as hope-filled.

Many immigrants started out at the bottom and worked their way up. The beauty of America is that people can start at the bottom of the social/economic/political food chain and rise to greatness. I think all of our previous Presidents are proof of that, not just Obama.

In this United States anything is possible.

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From: Francis Hwang (Jan 21 2009, at 15:24)

I'm reminded of the piece Pete Hamill wrote about his friendship with Robert Kennedy, and about the letter he wrote him, encouraging him to run for President:

"I wanted to remind you that in Watts I didn’t see pictures of Malcolm X or Ron Karenga on the walls. I saw pictures of JFK. ... if a 15-year-old kid is given a choice between Rap Brown and RFK, he might choose the way of sanity. It’s only a possibility, but at least there is that chance. Give that same kid a choice between Rap Brown and LBJ, and he’ll probably reach for his revolver."

If you're talking about a bunch of hotel staff who don't speak English well, and might not have had a ton of education, and have very demanding jobs that don't pay very well, I don't think it's unfair to assume that these people might not be up-to-date with the ins and outs of electoral politics.

But they care, and I think they care deeply about the symbolism. A black man was just given the single most powerful job in the world, and the symbolism matters, but it'll matter more to some people. I think if you were, say, a college-educated Indian-American tech executive, one who's had okay opportunities and who affords a certain amount of dignity in your day-to-day life, you might think that's sort of nice. But if you were, say, a Mexican busboy who barely spoke English, Obama's election is probably more than just nice. It's probably a huge part of the reason you put up with going through it all in the first place.

(I say this all having been a fervent Obama supporter and having been on the Mall yesterday, so I certainly don't think Obama's supporters are uneducated or swayed only by emotion. Just trying to trace the way that the symbolism of the moment is playing a part.)

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From: John (Jan 21 2009, at 16:10)

Tim - does the hotel situation bother you because you perceive an injustice or discrimination? I'm sure it has nothing to do with skill sets or how recently someone immigrated.

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January 21, 2009
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