What It Means to Be American Essay
I jumped and cheered, to the amusement of the Rwandan waiter behind the bar. As I was trying to explain why I was yelling at the TV, the junior senator from Illinois appeared in an interview with Larry King. I pointed to the screen and said, "And this man wants to run for president!"
The waiter looked at me indulgently, as if I were completely out of touch and maybe a little bit slow. "A black man? President? In America?" he said. "I don't think so."
Just last May, in Ethiopia, a passport official asked who I supported in the primaries. "Clinton?" he asked. "Or that Kenyan?" I said I had voted for the Kenyan.
I thought of explaining that Barack Obama is really American -- that, in fact, his story is as American as it gets. But I had a flight to catch, and I was pretty sure the explanation would lead to another one of those looks.
Since 2000, when I started traveling to Africa for my work in public health, it hasn't been easy to be an American abroad. But even harder, surprisingly, is explaining what it means to be an American.
I have tried to explain that, even though my grandparents were immigrants, I am no