Barack Obama’s first inauguration

Barack and Michelle Obama in 2009

Barack and Michelle Obama in 2009


By Richard Momar Yapo Cuanang

Christmas of 2008 was another warm holiday in the South.

My friend asked what I would like for a Christmas present. I said I would love to attend the inauguration of President Barack Obama in January. The gift — a Savannah-Dulles, Dulles-Honolulu, Honolulu-Savannah ticket — came in an air mail envelope. Prior to that, my manager at the country club asked if I would consider a time-off because business was slow. How about two weeks, I asked. On the spot he said ‘done.’

On a Sunday, a co-worker drove me to the airport for my late morning flight to D.C. I asked him to pay my luggage fee as I was semi-broke. Scratching his head, he asked how I would enjoy D.C. and Hawaii on an empty pocket. I said I have friends and family. He gave me a look that says ‘you’re crazy,’ and we both laughed.

My flight was short. On disembarking, I began to look for the bus that would take me to the West Falls Church metro where my cousin would pick me up. I was to stay with her for two nights. The ride was at least one hour, and I was seated with very vibrant younger lady from Kansas. She was an Obama volunteer like myself, and a first-time voter. We shared stories of what we both went through during the campaign: the phones slamming on our ears, the late nights, the long car rides, and our experience of a lifetime: meeting Mr. Obama in person. We parted after swapping phone numbers, and flew ‘hoping to catch up at the grounds’ kisses.

My cousin was already at the metro station. We stopped by IHOP for a quick bite before heading to her school dorm at the Catholic University. My coat still bore my pin from the campaign, OBAMA 08. The server asked if I was in town for the inauguration. As a reply, I pointed to my pin.

I was so looking forward to the inauguration. In 48 hours I would be with political kindred folks who kept faith with this black man to one day become a leader the Free World.

My cousin and her friend Bushraa decided to come with me to the grounds. It was 2 in the morning when we left the dorm – the earlier the better chances to get closer to the stage. It was cold although we were nicely bundled up. We underestimated our time. The train was jammed. There was almost no wiggle room. The train had to stop three times. Sardined we were, but people were not complaining. We were all determined to reach the grounds. Everyone was all smiles, and positive energy filled the air. Despite the morning chill, it felt warm.

Around 7 a.m., we finally reached the grounds. My companions and I found a grassy clearing and crashed to get some more sleep. We didn’t care. We woke up when the sun rose; it was almost 10 a.m. and someone’s radio buzzed on. Planes circled the air. It’s Party Time!

The members of the Cabinet were introduced. The 44th President followed, with a Pacific Ocean of people erupting in roars, applause and wild hooting. No one could hear what was being announced on the sound system.

The Rev. Pastor Rick Warren offered a very vibrant prayer. The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and Beyonce the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

After taking his oath before Chief Justice John Roberts – who fumbled the oath and gave Obama the wrong words — there was a brief silence. When Obama uttered “so help me God,” the crowd erupted in euphoric exaltation. It was now official.

President Barack Hussein Obama’s famous line, “It will be met,” will always ring in my head. His was a short yet meaningful speech, just enough to quench our thirst for validation after a hard-fought election. I will always have deep admiration and respect for him.

As we parted in front of the National Mall, there were tears – mine, my two companions and some of the people around us. It was a united front of new American voters, spectators, volunteers, and undocumented immigrants.

It’s been 12 hours, and time to catch my plane for Honolulu. I was to attend another inauguration: My fellow Ilocano friend and the host of my 10-day Hawaiian vacation was elected president of Annak Ti Batac Association.

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