The Obama era has come to and end. Like many, I have mixed feelings about this past presidency. Obama’s legacy has now been set in stone—per say. He was often criticized by the “right” and rejected by the “far-left” or “woke” individuals, but not many people argued his “Liberal” title. Whether “Liberal” was used in good faith or a bad connotation, he was always the face of the “Liberals”. I recall the first time I saw Obama in person. He was hope, and I, an undocumented immigrant ate it up.
In 2007 a pre salt-and-pepper hair Obama was making his rounds in Los Angeles, California during the Democratic Party primary campaign for the 2008 Presidential election. Then, I was working under the table at a solar panel factory, on the outskirts of South LA. Word got to me that Obama, a democratic contender challenging Hillary Clinton, was going to be at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College or Trade Tech as locals call it. Meanwhile, at the same time that day—by coincidence—Republican runner-up, John McCain was going to have a press conference with the then California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the factory I was working at. At the risk of losing my job, I skipped work and decided to meet up with friends at Trade Tech. It was a hot day and lingering around a sea of people could only be bearable if we could actually get to see Obama speak. I slithered through a crowd of Black and Brown bodies. I found a place by the podium, where my flip-phone’s camera could make up an image big enough to know it was Obama in the picture. He spoke, and the crowd went wild every time he paused. I myself began feeling euphoric.
After a moving speech, Obama was getting ready to leave. I quickly walked towards the place he was going to exit – just to see him up close one last time. He left the stage and walked towards my direction. The crowd around me grew almost instantaneously. He was shaking as many hands as he could before getting near me. I wanted to reach out and shake his hand, but at that moment I knew it was going be impossible. I was just going to end up looking like those basketball fans on TV-the ones that get left hanging while the players head to the lockers. I quickly yelled nervously in broken English, “You are the president of the immigrants!” He turned turned my way but we never made eye contact. I was happy. I was sure he heard my voice.
As Obama left Trade Tech a team of secret service security followed him closely. I was still feeling the “Hope” from the speech so I ran towards a street corner where his caravan was going to pass by. When I got to the busy intersection, I could see Obama in the back of his bulletproof limousine with a window halfway down waving at people. Again I yelled, ”Obama, you are the president of the immigrants!” He looked my direction and wave. I chose to believe he was waving at me. I was convinced he recognized my voice.
One of Obama’s campaign promises was to enact a comprehensive immigration reform. At the end of his second term he never met that promise, in fact, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, his administration deported 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, which is more than any administration in US history. Obama was named “The Deporter-in-Chief”. He really cracked down on immigration, but not the way he promised during his first term campaign. He created more families with broken homes. My home was one of them. My father, for example, was deported during Obama’s first term. He suffers from alcoholism and was arrested after being involved in a fight due to intoxication. He was handed over to ICE. I didn’t see him for almost a decade, until Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy or DACA, as an executive order. With DACA I was able to leave the country under parole and visit my dad.
Many undocumented immigrants, like myself, feel uncertain about the future because we have gotten empty promises in the past. Obama’s presidency was not an immigrant friendly one. It took community organizing in order for Obama to take action on DACA. I am grateful for those who were in the front of this fight. I wondered, what if he wasn’t a lame duck president? Had he had control of both the House and the Senate, could he have done more for the immigrant community? As these unanswerable questions scroll through my mind, I chose to believe Obama was waving at me.