Demographers say that by 2042, more than half of Americans will have non-white ancestry, primarily Latino, Asian or African. The inauguration of Barack Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother, will be the most dramatic sign yet of the country's growing cultural and ethnic diversity. Nowhere is that truer than in New York, a city of immigrants and their children.
A Class Act
"Class, I want you to pretend for a moment that I am Mark, or Johannes..." Julie Mann's class at Newcomers High School is acting out scenes from the autobiography of a boy growing up under apartheid in South Africa. The Queens, New York public high school is one of 12 in the city designed to serve new immigrants. The students here are from China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Colombia, Yemen, Egypt, and Haiti and other countries. Many say they are hopeful and happy about Barack Obama's election, both for the sake of their new country, and for what it means for their own lives.
"I won't say strangest, but it is one of the most historical elections in America, really ground-breaking," says a young man from Bangladesh. "I think if an African-American [can] be the president, that is history change," a Chinese classmate agrees. "As a black man, I can have more chance, and I am dedicated to being someone, something important in the United States," says a Haitian student. "I was thinking that maybe [now] an Asian-American can be president," a Bangladeshi girl offers.
Building a dignified life in America
A few blocks away from the high school, Colombian-born Nora Chaves works at "Make the Road," a social justice organization that helps Latino immigrants. She has two children, and says that's why Obama's election was so important to her. "I decided to stay in the United States because he won," Chaves says. "I was really doubtful about what was going to happen. Because my children were born here, they are U.S. citizens, but they are Latinos." Now, Chaves says, she feels very differently: "[I think now] that immigrants have a chance to really build America and to build dignifying lives in this country."
Obama presidency, renewed hope
"Quite frankly, we are an immigrant country, " says Mohammad Razvi. "I mean, other than the native Indians, everyone is an immigrant here." Mr. Razvi runs an organization in nearby Brooklyn that serves South Asian immigrants. Born in Pakistan, he is raising his own children in the U.S. "I have five kids, and I've explained to them, 'Look, how great of a change. Now actually America is what it is supposed to be.' All my children were born here in the United States, and it's a great feeling that one day perhaps they can also be elected as president."
Obama, many firsts
Few of the students in Julie Mann's class at Newcomers High School are naturalized citizens yet, but they say Obama's election speaks to them equally: "Because he take the money from the war and put it in education," says a Chinese girl. A Yemeni boy says, "This election was about all the people, not just whites or African-Americans, but immigrants, as well." "And like when he said that we are not a red state, blue state, we are United States - that makes me feel very encouraged about him," the girl from Bangladesh says. "And I feel like he's the one who can unite all of us."
As president, Barack Obama will be many firsts: the first biracial president, the first with a foreign-born parent from outside the British Isles or Canada, the first with African and Muslim heritage. And for many immigrants, he will also be the first U.S. president with a story not unlike their own.