Barok* for Obama: Confessions of an undocumented campaign volunteer

The author at Hofstra during the Obama-Romney debate.

By Richardmomar Cuanang

“There will be no black president in this nation.”

This statement, coming from my aunt who is married to an African American, always seemed to echo every time I visit her home in Beaufort, South Carolina. More than a statement, it was a stubborn declaration from a lady who has witnessed the Great American Inequality through the eyes of her mulatto husband.

In 2004, I bought a copy of “The Audacity of Hope” written by the then junior senator from Chicago. By that time, Barack Obama had successfully introduced himself to American politics with his youth, dynamism, intelligence and charisma. I read page after page as his words gave me a strange feeling bordering on a sense of pride. As an Asian and an undocumented immigrant, I felt like he was speaking to me. His words rang loud, and in my feeling, true: There is no African American, no Asian American no Latino American, there is only the United States of America.

When Obama announced his aspirations to be a presidential candidate in 2008, I have already made my decision to be part of his movement. I volunteered in Beaufort, a deeply red, conservative state. I decked my black neon Dodge with Obama posters front and back and attracted a lot of traffic attention. That I was Asian, made me stick out even more. At the time, I was working in a posh country club where political conversation usually happened at the golf course. One time, I was serving a couple who asked if I liked Obama. I said he was a fresh face with great ideas, possibly a wild card. The couple became Obama supporters and they introduced me to their siblings as the person who “converted” them.

As the primary began to unfold, I used my personal phone to call potential voters and maximized my airtime plan. My apartment looked like a campaign headquarters and some of my neighbors were not too happy about it.

Prior to the primary election was Martin Luther King Day. We had a motorcade around town. We proceeded to knock on doors and gave away flyers, pins and other tokens, then went back to the office to do more phone calls. It felt like a great day of relief that the south was opening up slightly to new ideas and perspectives.

Primary election day was chaotic and also exciting. I took my uncle to cast his ballot and left for the campaign office. I was the only Asian, there were two African Americans and the rest were Caucasians. I was in charge of a room filled with 10 people. We coordinated car rides and last-minute phone calls. I’ve never heard so much yelling and phone slamming in my life. It was a time of despair and also eager anticipation of what was to happen next. The room felt stuffy; we worked till 7 p.m. when the precincts closed. The minute we learned Obama had won, we went off to celebrate at a local bar. We each paid for our drinks. The unity I experienced was overwhelming.

I was named the biggest Obama supporter. It came on an engraved certificate, and I accepted it with great pride, honor and privilege. I had my full 15 seconds walking with Senator Obama, who visited Beaufort, where a simple ceremony was held at a high school gym.

I introduced myself while a lanky Asian American secret service kept watch. Obama thanked me for what I have done to contribute to his victory in the primary election. As we were in the moment, I kept thinking about my ‘Jose Antonio Vargas’ situation. Should I tell him? He was tall, had cold hands and a firm voice. That day was long, yet seemed short and relaxing. There was a lot of picture taking.

The 2008 election was a cold and cloudy day. My co-worker came at 7:30 a.m. to pick me up. He was with a first-time voter, a Colombian-born naturalized citizen. On the ride, he asked why he had to vote for Obama. I told him what I know from his book and meeting him, but stressed whatever his decision was it would be his future as an American.

My buddy went into the booth to cast his ballot. On my way out I grabbed an “I Voted” sticker and proudly pinned it to my chest. Back at the headquarters, we volunteers made nonstop calls reminding people to vote early. My ear must have gotten heat friction from my phone banking duties.

I continued to watch the campaign back at the country club where I worked. All the televisions were tuned in to the major networks. I watched as I passed around setting tables for dinner. Back at home by 11 p.m. it was official: Barack Obama was declared the 44th president of the United States of America. I called my uncle and shared tears of joy. My Jamaican friend phoned and congratulated me. I slept soundly that night.

This year will be no different. My admiration for Barack Obama brought me to Hofstra University on October 16. I am now a New York resident, having left South Carolina on my 35th birthday in August of this year. The debate was a town hall format. I was three buildings away. I walked in hoping to relive and be part of Obama Mania all over again. I saw the former governor of New York David Paterson and many other who’s who in politics.

It’s been a great ride and a wonderful experience for this undocumented TNT. Who’s hiding?

Richardmomar Cuanang came to the United States in 2001. He works in the food and restaurant industry and is working to get his J1 visa. ‘Barok’ in Ilocano means great son. His total donation to the 2012 Obama campaign: $14.


  1. AG wrote:

    Like you, I am Asian and therefore a minority. Like you, I, too was happy that finally a minority was elected President of the United States. I salute your energy and enthusiasm in supporting and working for the election, and now the re-election effort of Pres. Obama. However, let me ask you. If Barack Obama vehemently opposed illegal migration, if Obama advocated the immediate removal of all undocumented aliens from the US – as required by law, would you STILL think as highly of him? Would you still have worked so furiously in his campaigns?

    Is Obama your hero because HE broke through the ‘glass ceiling’, because of HIS personal achievements, or because he supports YOUR continued illegal stay in America? Are you supporting Obama because he is good for the ENTIRE citizenry of the United States? or just for your OWN personal interests? We should be electing someone who works for the good of America, and not just for individuals’ personal agenda.

    The fact that you made such an GREAT DIFFERENCE in our national elections in both 2008 and 2012 is worrisome. It is against our Constitution for FOREIGNERS to meddle in our internal affairs, and most certainly for people who are not in-country LEGALLY. It is one thing to be undocumented due to refugee status or some unfortunate bureaucratic bungle. But to knowingly break the laws of our land, and throw it to our faces (that you had your Jose Antonio-Vargas moment- another ‘proud’ law-breaker) is the height of arrogance.

    And please do not point to the good number of people ‘supporting’ Mr Vargas’s campaign. Just because people say something is okay does not make it right. Or at least, legal.

    Don;t get me wrong. America is NOT against migration. We are against ILLEGAL migration. There is a HUGE difference. Legal migration made this country great and rich in culture. Illegal immigration HURTS those who are legitimate. Those who have been ‘chosen’ by this country to come in. People who have made a conscious decision to RESPECT the laws of the country they want to call their own. They filled out the paperwork, did the medical exams, paid the fees, and WAITED years, sometimes decades, for their OFFICIAL APPROVAL.

    Do not take it personally, but illegals DISRUPT the process by jumping the line and pushing back LEGITIMATE migrants, Like I enjoin Mr. Antonio-Vargas, who I hope will one day be naturalized, there is NO NEED to “re-define American”, the old definition is good enough. It is someone who pledges allegiance to the flag, and more basically, RESPECTS the US enough that their first act is NOT to break its laws. Nor to support candidates who encourages law-breakers.

    I hope you understand my displeasure.

    Take care,
    Dr. AG
    (a legal immigrant who missed out on important career opportunities in the past because I REFUSED TO LIE and claim I was ALREADY a US citizen, before I was)

  2. […] It’s been a great ride and a wonderful experience for this undocumented TNT. Who’s hiding? – The FilAm […]

  3. Well said, Dr. AG. It’s 2013 and no justification has been (or can be) openly made by Mr. Cuanang to your charges to his credibility. Enough said!

  4. […] A naturalized legal immigrant on Barok* for Obama: Confessions of an undocumented campaign volunteer […]

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