Taquiena Boston is Director of the UUA’s Identity-Based Ministries and a native resident of Washington, DC. She offers some of her experiences of this week’s inauguration:
“No more bargaining with God,” my mother said after we watched the Inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama from Station 9, a restaurant on U Street in Washington, DC. When I asked her what that meant, she said that just as she had prayed to see my sister and me grow up and hit the significant birthdays and benchmarks in our lives — as well as her personal benchmarks, — she prayed that she would live to see Barack Obama inaugurated as president.
My mother turned 81 on January 2, 2009. She was the youngest daughter, ninth child and first of my grandmother’s 10 children to be born in Washington, DC during segregation and on the brink of the Great Depression. When we researched my mother’s genealogy in Culpeper County, VA, we learned that her matrilineal line dates back to the late 1700s in the United States. We even found the name of the man who “last owned” her great grandfather, Abram. As my sister photocopied the census information from “The Colored People of Culpeper County” that named my mother’s grandmother and the names of her great and great-great grandparents, my mother’s reaction was “I feel like I belong to something.”
In the last several years, walking and crowds have become more challenging for my mother. So on January 20, 2009, she, my sister and I went to a U Street restaurant reserved by “DC for Obama” for campaign volunteers and friends to watch the Inauguration. I wore my deceased father’s sweater loaded with all my campaign buttons. (Because my father’s ancestry also extended more than 200 years in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I had worn this sweater while canvassing and doing Get Out the Vote in Prince William County, VA to feel the support of my ancestors as I knocked on doors in communities unknown to me.) I gave my mother the Obama-Biden inauguration button purchased the day after the election.
During the election, my mother and I had several conversations about what it was like be a citizen of a country in which you are also treated like the stranger. My own experiences traveling outside the United States brought home to me how much I am a product of “American” culture. But it surprised me to hear my mother say that most often she felt like she was an exile or refugee. So the most moving part of Inauguration Day for me was when Aretha Franklin sang “My Country Tis of Thee.” The “Queen of Soul” hardly got out “sweet land of liberty” when my mother grabbed the tissues from her purse and started sobbing. I put my arm around “Mommy” as several tears rolled down my own cheeks.
When the inauguration ceremony was over, I asked my mother what had moved her about “My Country Tis of Thee.” She said “we used to sing that song in school all the time when I was a girl, but I never believed it was true for me until now. Today, this is my country, too.”