THE GIFT OF A FUNNY NAME LIKE OBAMA

Chicago Sun-Times - - COMMENTARY 25A -

At 25, the only two elec­tions I’ve ever been able to vote in in­cluded a black man with a funny name of mixed race, raised by a sin­gle mother.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and I have some things in com­mon.

I also have a funny name. It’s Xi­mena Bel­tran Quan Kiu. I’m mixed eth­nic­ity — Mex­i­can and Chi­nese. And I was raised by a sin­gle mother.

I’m one of the vot­ers who make up the cul­tural shift hap­pen­ing in this coun­try. I’m a mil­len­nial. I am a woman. I’m Latina and Asian. I am the fu­ture.

Pres­i­dent Obama will be sworn in for a sec­ond term on Mon­day. His pres­i­dency is more than his pol­i­tics or a moment in U.S. his­tory. He is the sym­bol of a cul­tural shift that I also rep­re­sent.

The 2008 elec­tion was a col­lec­tive of peo­ple hun­gry for change. Vot­ers of dif­fer­ent ages, races, and so­cio-eco­nomic stand­ing swarmed the polls. Fast­for­ward four years later and that ex­cite­ment had worn off.

The nov­elty of change had evap­o­rated. Obama’s new Amer­ica could dis­ap­pear in an in­stant. He had em­braced women, youth, gays and Lati­nos, but would they sup­port him to prove his pres­i­dency was more than a fad?

We all know the an­swer to that. Fifty-five per­cent of fe­male vot­ers backed Obama. He also took 75 per­cent of the Latino vote and 60 per­cent of 18-to-29-year-olds.

We are called mi­nori­ties, but the re­sults of our ac­tions say we are the ma­jor­ity. We are Barack Obama.

Like Pres­i­dent Obama, I was dif­fer­ent and faced chal­lenges in my youth.

My name started with an X. I was a Mex­i­can-Chi­nese im­mi­grant be­ing raised by a sin­gle-mom in a low-in­come Chicago sub­urb that fed into an af­flu­ent high school. My life was a far cry from some peers who re­ceived Audis and BMWs on their 16th birthdays from mom and dad.

My mother en­cour­aged me to take pride and ad­van­tage of what set me apart from my peers, but I didn’t see those dif­fer­ences as a gift. I just wanted to fit in.

That all changed when Barack Obama crossed the stage at Grant Park in 2008. I didn’t have an ex­cuse any­more. Here was some­one who didn’t have a fa­ther grow­ing up, wasn’t fa­mous or rich. He sim­ply had a dream and was will­ing to work for it, and we were now call­ing him Mr. Pres­i­dent.

For the first time, I be­gan to think of longterm goals and en­vi­sion a suc­cess­ful fu­ture — a fu­ture that would be built by what distin­guished me from oth­ers.

This new-found re­al­iza­tion kept me pos­i­tive and hope­ful through a gloomy econ­omy.

I grad­u­ated col­lege, along with mil­lions of 20-some­things, into an econ­omy with a 9.4 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment rate. I took a third job in or­der to com­plete the in­tern­ship I knew would ben­e­fit me in the long run. I con­tin­ued my ed­u­ca­tion past a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in or­der to pounce when the econ­omy re­bounded.

As a re­sult, I came out stronger and more com­pet­i­tive than my peers.

This hum­bled and in­spired me to give back and let oth­ers know the Amer­i­can Dream is alive and well.

As I walk through the South Side Chicago pub­lic school where I am a read­ing men­tor, I am sur­prised by how of­ten a face like Pres­i­dent Obama’s face greets me in ev­ery hall­way and class­room.

Rug­gles Ele­men­tary has a stu­dent body of more than 400 and is 98 per­cent black. What will th­ese chil­dren be­come? I smile at the pos­si­bil­i­ties their fu­tures hold know­ing they can in fact be­come pres­i­dent.

Xi­mena N. Bel­tran Quan Kiu works as a new me­dia spe­cial­ist in Chicago at DePaul Univer­sity’s Of­fice of Pub­lic Re­la­tions and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. She has bach­e­lor’s and master’s de­grees from DePaul . This piece was writ­ten in as­so­ci­a­tion with The Op-Ed Project, which seeks to ex­pand the range of opin­ion voices.

Xi­mena Bel­tran Quan Kiu

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