I have two unique perspectives of America – as an Ethiopian and a Canadian. I cherish both.
Coming from a country led by the horrible unstable communist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam, which preferred to send its young to war rather than to school, made famine its signature while misappropriating resources donated from abroad, as a youngster, America made a profound impression on me.
I saw in America the possibility of what we could be. In my own relatives, I saw a nation where people found refuge and reconstructed their once-broken and vulnerable lives to be better. I saw how my father’s American education changed the narrative of his own biography.
I grew up watching my entrepreneur grandfather pray for the longevity of the Voice of America radio – because through it, he saw and heard his own destiny – one that should not be limited by undue government intrusion. John F. Kennedy’s peace-corps idea made Ethiopia better and inhabitable.
As a Canadian, I saw how our close bilateral relationships, in security, trade and immigration, made us better, not worse. It was no wonder that many Americans pretended to be Canadians when travelling the world, to help escape the scrutiny of the Bush War a decade ago. It is easy to emulate and complement each other.
America the beautiful, as Ray Charles often reminded us.
In 2008 – I went to the United States – Ohio and Pennsylvania – to volunteer for Barack Obama. I wanted to be part of a historic milestone – where America was about to have its first black president and transform from a country that once allowed slavery to opening its highest office to a black man. I wanted to experience the change, in a country, that once educated my dad while denying him the right to use a public washroom not reserved for coloured people.
From Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I am watching today’s presidential elections with interest and optimism.
I wish I was in America, volunteering in Minnesota helping Ilhan Omar become the country’s first Somali-American legislator just a year after I helped Ahmed Hussein become Canada’s first Somali-Canadian parliamentarian.
The presidential candidates are both imperfect unlike the 2008 elections. Then the election was between a respected war-hero (maverick) Republican vs a respected progressive activist from Chicago.
I wonder who is going to become the 45th President?
Will it be Hillary Clinton, who once advocated a crimes bill that helped send non-violent African-Americans in record numbers to American jail or Donald Trump, a comical character who wants to close America’s borders and remove a privileged nation from the rest of the world through protectionism?
America is better than either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Her people want a moderate and generous America to play its responsibility in the world.
No one candidate will change that reality. No single presidency will destroy its fabrics and needed voice in the world. I hope the better candidate wins today. With that win, like we did as Canadian volunteers in 2008, we will see America make history and that every girl will dream that she has a place in the highest political office in the country. This is not because Clinton is an exceptional candidate, but because she is the better candidate in 2016.