Nearly thirty years ago Michigan State University offered both my husband and I each a half-time graduate assistantship to pursue a PhD in mathematical statistics.
For two people living day to day with a small daughter, in a poor third world country, it was a god’s send.
There was one catch. We had to pay our own way to get to US. After selling everything we owned, we had just enough money to buy tickets for two of us, but not for our daughter. Then we found out, at that time, airlines allow children under the age of two to travel free as long as they sat on their parents lap. So, we booked our flights and came to this wonderful country, two days before our daughter’s second birthday, with two suitcases and only $50 in hand – but most importantly: with a lot of hope.
In the middle of our studies, I remember my advisor telling me that due to the Reagan budgets cuts to higher education, MSU had to reduce my assistantship in half. That was my first experience with a Republican administration.
Living in Michigan as full time graduate students, taking care of a little girl with a small stipend, wasn’t easy. We could never afford new clothes, books, cars or really anything new for that matter. I can remember in winter walking knee deep in snow, carrying grocery bags with my little girl trotting behind me, making snow angles on her way, bundled up in the warm jacket that others had donated to the community swap box.
Fast forward a few years, and after a lot of hard work both my husband and I earned our PhDs and went on to become college professors, and today we can send our daughter to a graduate school without worrying about loans. In fact, today we are living our American dream.
That is why when I heard then Senator Obama give that rousing speech at the 2004 convention, I thought to myself, ‘that is my story he is telling’.
By the time he started saying, “in no other country on earth is my story even possible” tears were rolling down my cheeks.
We knew that was true, because we had lived through it.
After that speech, I started reading everything I could, including his two books, to better understand how someone could so completely understand what we too saw as the American dream. The day his candidacy was announced, I was elated at the news.
I used to tell my daughter, when she complained, that it is not the material things that matter, it is something we have to understand and enjoy immensely everyday in this country – it is freedom and education that matters.
The country I came from practically had no freedom of speech, no freedom of press or none of the freedoms that we take for granted here. Yet, we had one important right: every six years we are allowed to vote to elect a government of our choice. This is the only freedom we have without government intrusion, the only chance we get to say something about our government without getting beaten.
We treasured and guarded it with our lives. That is why, usually, almost 95% of the population votes every time there is an election, some even risking their lives.
We always knew how important voting is and we never took that right for granted. We know the power it has on our education, the power it has on our social well being, the power it has in every aspect of our lives.
Growing up in this country, my daughter was so cynical and skeptical about politics. So, when Senator Obama announced his candidacy I just asked her one simple thing: just listen to him and make your own judgment. When my daughter believes in something, she does everything to see it through.
So, she took a break from her graduate program, became a field organizer for the 2008 Obama campaign and started telling our story at house parties and meetings, bringing tears to the audience and convincing them how much we need his vision and to vote and organize for him.
I don’t know whether I am as good as she is at telling this, but if I can convince at least one person how much is at stake in this election, how much we need President Obama to save our education and our social well being, I have accomplished something.
We need to organize, donate as much as we can – and volunteer.
I know one thing for sure: we need him now more than ever.