Emil Guillermo: Kamala's historic moment for diversity at the DNC

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As a journalist in both the mainstream and ethnic media, I’ve covered diversity in America before anyone knew what to call it.

There’s never been a night quite like Wednesday in American political history.

Barack Obama, America’s first Black, multiracial president, quietly ripped apart Donald Trump for his dangerous ineptitude.

And Kamala Harris, entered one-name territory fame.

Now she’s just Kamala, the first Black woman and the first Asian American of Indian descent in position to hold the second highest office in the United States of America.

Think about that, if you’re a person of color and feeling ignored, invisible, and generally held down by this force called structural racism.

There’s Kamala to give you hope. She even acknowledged it in her speech. Kamala has your back. She’s a prosecutor. She’ll go after the bad things in life with zeal. That is, if you vote, and she and Biden win. Then she’ll have a shot at the policy stuff.

But for now, her cultural/identity history is what we’ve got. It should not be dismissed. It’s not all “feel good” stuff. It’s a milestone in American society. A big deal.

I’ve often chided Kamala for being selective about when she talks about her South Asianness, and her being connected to her Asian American brothers and sisters.

No problem talking about it for the ethnic Indian media. But for the mainstream? She often just didn’t say (like when she campaigned in Iowa last year).

But she clearly was saving it all for her special closeup moment on Wednesday night.

On Day 3 of the DNC, she told her origin story, how her mother Shyamala Gopalan met Donald Harris, an immigrant from Jamaica, at a civil rights protest in Berkeley. They married, split up when Kamala was five. Shyamala became a single mother who raised Kamala and her sister “to be proud, strong black women. . .and to know and be proud of our Indian heritage.”

If you have an immigrant mother, or come from a mixed race family like mine, I’m sure you can relate.

“I keep thinking about that 25-year-old Indian woman,” Kamala continued. “All of five-feet tall who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California.” It was hopefully a final riposte to any birther talk out there, and then she delivered the words everyone was waiting for. “On that day, she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now and speaking these words. I accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States of America.”

And that’s your American dream history moment of the night.

It’s an Asian American, Black, multicultural, mega-diversity moment, told in a slow and intimate way. It was authentic. It was Zoomy–a Zoom box that looked like America.

Our stories are ready to be heard.

Day 3 made up for a lot that Tuesday night lacked. On Tuesday, the roll call was king, and the show discovered it was OK to just own up to being on Zoom. Speaker-wise, I thought President Bill Clinton was hard to take, especially when criticizing Trump’s Covid response, “It is what it is.”

It only made me think of Clinton’s own infamous grand jury answer, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” when asked about an affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Hillary made up for it on Day 3. She went after Trump, of course, but talked about the reactions she got from other people. “For four years, people have told me I didn’t realize how dangerous [Trump] was. I wish I could do it all over. Or worse, I should have voted,” she said.

But it was Barack Obama who delivered the deepest cut, going after Trump for failing to take the job of president and custodian of our democracy seriously.

“For close to four years now, he has shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends, no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can used to get the attention he craves,” said Obama. “ Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job, because he can’t. And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Million of jobs gone, while those at the top take more than ever.”

I’ve often wondered why Obama has been reticent during the last four years, and why he’s been so selective in speaking out. Must be dire now. On this night, he showed up, making it plain that Trump is doing all he can to make it harder for us all to vote.

“Do not let them take away your power,” Obama said. “Do not let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you are going to get involved and vote.”

But he left it up to Kamala to drive the point home to not be left out of this historic electoral story.

“Years from now, this moment will have passed,” she said. “And our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes, and they’re going to ask, where were you, when the stakes were so high?. . .And we will tell them, not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did.”

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The near empty room, except for a few physically distant reporters, didn’t cheer the last line. But the Zoom Wall went up. And so did the Zoom hands. It’s the unconventional convention that has highlighted the multiple failures of the current administration.

Protect your vote. Plan your vote. Remember the people who died so you can have your vote.

Kamala made history tonight. Our turn is coming soon.

Surely, by Day 4, any Zoom issues will be solved. We should have one more roll call. I love the Zoom roll call. In fact, I like all of it. The wall of folks, with people doing the Zoom hands thing in a physically distant convening,

Thursday’s speakers will feature the party’s next generation favorites: Sen. Cory Booker, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and the person who could be a breakout star of the night, Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

But before I go on about Duckworth, where in that previous list of names are the Latinx names? A Castro brother (Julian or Javier)? Did they get lost in the shuffle, Hispanic activists were wondering after Day 1.

Duckworth doesn’t make up for that, but she is a diversity gold mine. Born of an American father and Thai mother, she’s the first Thai American woman elected to Congress, the first woman with a disability elected to congress, the first female double amputee in the Senate, and the first senator to have a baby while in office.

Some pundits said she would be a guaranteed Trump removal specialist, had she been on the ticket.

So maybe tonight is her consolation prize.

Still, it’s Biden’s night. He’s the captain of the ship. In some ways, he won’t have to say much. We know his story already. It’s been told – by Michelle Obama on day 1. By Jill Biden on day 2. And on day 3 by Barack Obama, Hillary, and Kamala.

Biden just needs to let all of us know–in no uncertain terms–that he is the one who can lead us out of the murky troubled waters Trump has brought our democracy.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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