Romney, Obama, as we Unitedstatesians say in our vernacular: same difference. Some of us care and some do not. Some think the vote counts for squat while many others can’t help but lament how the fate of the world and its Christ-charged duty hinges on this 2012 presidential election. To be sure, there’s a lot of truth to be unearthed and nitpicked as we consider a less-than-adequate number of repercussions and political paradigms involved. Nevertheless, one truth is deftly glossed over regarding our hemispheric cousins: Latin America also awaits its new Gringo president, its new Decider-in-Chief.
I was sitting in my friend’s house just some days ago in the ‘Heroic City of Tacna’ on the Peruvian border with Arica, Chile. We were eating some of Tacna’s reputable pollo al broaster when my friend’s dad asked me, “So, who’s my next President going to be?” It was a joke to be sure, but a sobering joke all the same. “I’ll have to go down to the Gringo consulate, to secure my vote for Obama, to make sure I get to vote for my new President,” he added sardonically. I can only imagine what some of my compatriots would think of this Peruvian man’s joke: “Who the shit does he think he is, making fun of our democracy anyway?” That’s precisely the point. It’s not just our democracy. Politically ethical choices would be easier if it were.
Certainly the millions of Latin Americans living inside the US already have experience with Obama as their titular president, whilst experiencing the hot and cold paradoxes of his presidency—be it on the border, the Northeast, deep in America’s South, wherever. I wonder about the farcical exclusion of other Spanish, Portuguese and indigenous-speaking populations from around the hemisphere this election season. Mexico, for one, is close enough in proximity to Yanquilándia to share a border. And yet many pretend that the tens of thousands of Mexicans who died in the last handful of years—thanks to America’s psychotic obsession with guns and its super industrialized affair with illegal narcotics—is outside the scope of our vote; not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people whom Obama has managed to oppress and deport from the US-Mexican border in the last few years. They too understand an interesting side of an American presidency.
My family has lived on what is now the US-Mexico border for something like 185 years, having migrated from Chihuahua, Mexico. I have family in the Border States of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California to this very day. A professor at my undergraduate graduation ceremony in Philadelphia even stopped me and commented that he studied the trek which my family made to Mexico from Spain with Hernán Cortez in the early 1500s. Damn! That makes me feel so important. Not. And one would think my background is shared by many proud Americans who understand the clash of cultures, the enriching of peoples, land invasions and expulsions, indigenous roots, the amalgamation of different languages, a shared sense of history and direction, etc. Obviously this is not the case (we don’t share anything, let alone historical trajectories). With nearly half the US population expected to be Latino within little more than a generation’s time, can Unitedstatesians—can we—in good conscience elect but one more president who runs the gamut of oppression and paternalism both at home and abroad for the sake of political points? Are we completely foolish?
I like to fantasize about how oddly coincidental and prophetic it was that my friend’s dad let me in on his transnational political joke—as if, given my background, I was the one destined to receive a subtle truth via the insight that followed our lighthearted palavering. But living in such a globalized world, I doubt that this politico-cultural exchange on the margins of yet another highly polemic international border in the Americas was really all that strange or special. I do believe, however, that if we’re going to vote for a president this November, we ought to keep in mind that there are other Americans who will not be voting for their President—marooned immigrants within our own borders as well as future immigrants and émigrés who await their very conception somewhere in the regions of Central America, the Caribbean or the Southern Cone. These other Americans will have their national Presidents chosen by our transnational corporation support, our government-backed sedition, our military-backed coups, our economic plans which do not favor the poorest of their poor… these Americans currently await their new Decider too.
Mateo Pimental lives in the southern Andes region of Peru.