Friday, January 20, 2017

Obama - the first Asian/American president leaves office

President Obama gives the 'shaka', the traditional Hawaiian hand sign of for 'hang loose.'

"I'M AN ISLAND BOY," said President Barack Obama when introducing himself to attendees of the Paris conference on climate change.

Indeed, almost everyone except for new White House inhabitant, knows that Obama was born and raised in Hawaii, the only state that has an Asian/American majority. 

Before the election of Barack Obama as president, back in 1998, there were murmurs amongst African/Americans calling Bill Clinton as the first African/American president because of his Georgia upbringing, the drawl in his voice, being raised by a single mom, his preference for southern cuisine. He was also constantly questioned about his qualifications. Remember how many GOP-instigated investigations probed his financial affairs and personal life? Except for the color of his skin, in many ways, African/Americans found their own experiences reflected in this white guy who understood them. Besides, he played the damn sax! 

Back then, a young community organizer was working in south Chicago gaining a following and building his street cred. The mere idea of a black president was a fantasy. In 2008, America elected its first African/American president. Some say, in the same way that African/Americans embraced Clinton, the AAPI community took Obama as one of their own and that's not a far stretch. After all, Obama can claim being closely related to Asian/Americans in his sister and her family.

Obama grew up and adapted into the AAPI culture of Hawaii: Easy-going, diversity was the norm and most of his classmates while growing up were of that wonderful Hawaiian polyglot mixture of Asian, European and Polynesian. 

His African heritage could have branded him as an outsider but this youngster learned to navigate his way through the social and cultural stew that is Hawaii. That experience prepared him for later in life when his political enemies tried to make him foreign and strange - and "other."

"What is this 'Birther tedium, but a macro version of being asked where you’re 'really from' after your American hometown proves to be insufficient for the thousandth time?" writes Eric Chang in Vogue.

"What are terms like 'professorial,' 'analytical,' and 'unemotional,' but primitive means by which to denigrate a capable individual for doing the reading, for eschewing John Wayne posturing and bluster in favor of patience and fact? Obama seemed to have gone through enormous effort to memorize the rule book he was meant to play by, only to be denounced for adhering too closely to the rules—a paradox Asian-Americans labor under constantly," says Chang.

Obama's "pivot to Asia" - an attempt to have the U.S. turn towards Asia instead of the traditional View towards Europe - has had mixed results and perhaps the misunderstanding and short-sighted view of the TPP Treaty may have helped China flex its muscle in the South China Sea that has its neighbors worried and scrambling.

“We’ll never forget that among his first acts in office was the signing in January 2009 of a bill creating the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) Fund, which grants a one-time lump sum payment to Filipino World War II veterans," recalls Gen. Antonio Tabuba. "We also remember his most recent executive action this year to launch the Filipino WWII Veterans Parole Program, allowing veterans to reunite with their families. We salute him for his leadership.”

From age 6 to 10, he lived in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather, Lolo Soetoro Mangunharjo, who was Indonesian.

Perhaps it was in Indonesia, formerly Java, in first to fourth grade that he became more Asian. Edward Fox writes that it may have been there that  Obama may have found his inner calmness as a result of what Javanese culture calls halus.

In Janny Scott’s biography of Obama’s mother, A Singular Woman, one of her interviewees maintains: ‘This is where Barack learnt to be cool … if you get mad and react, you lose. If you learn to laugh and take it without any reaction, you win.’…" Eerily similar to, "When they go low; we go high."

The Javanese have a word for this kind of bearing. They call it halus - defined by some scholars as: “Formality of bearing, restraint of expression, and bodily self-discipline." 

Study how Obama handles the attacks from the right and left and the graceful way he welcomed Donald Trump to the White House. it looks a lot like something out of the Aikido Way.
There are no kicks and no punches within Aikido itself…Instead, there is an emphasis on blending with a partner’s attack and the use of techniques to lead that attack safely to a conclusion that is good for everyone…you have the chance to actually resolve the conflict rather than just winning the fight.
The philosophy behind aikido gives us hope that Obama's gracious welcome and assistance to Trump and his  transition team is one of those strategic moves that will bear fruit in the future.

Finally, perhaps cementing this thesis, somewhere along the line in his life, President Obama developed a liking for at least two Filipino dishes - adobo and lumpia - and has had them served in the White House, according to White House Executive Chief Cristeta Comerford, a Filipina/American. 

As President Obama leaves the White House and moves across town to a new home, thank you for representing. Hang loose, brah.