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Spaniard in Washington DC: Obama remakes America

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In America, the word ‘remake’ has two meanings - the simple act of rebuilding or redoing something, but also the creation of a new version of an old film. The storyline doesn’t change, but the characters are different. On 20 January at the Capitol, president Barack Obama wrote the perfect script for a new country. Testimony

According to the media there were more than two and a half million people at the Mall, the long strip in front of the Capitol where the obelisk stands. Many had been there since the previous day, some better equipped than others, but everyone braving the cold; the freezing cold. In fact, being from Malaga myself, it felt Siberian.

(Image: ©Estefanía Martínez)

Although we arrived at half past four and the Mall didn’t open till seven, the queue was so long that the closest we managed to get was on the second level near the Lincoln Memorial, where the huge statue of the president stands.

If I had to pick one thing that was really good, it was the reception we got at the Mall. Thousands of volunteers mingled in the crowd greeting us and handing out American flags to everyone: Welcome! High five! People were dancing to reruns of the previous’ day’s shows of Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Shakira amongst others. There was singing and dancing and, despite occasionally hearing someone complain because they could no longer feel their toes because of the cold, it was still a party. One where stars such as Oprah Winfrey, Dustin Hoffman and John Cusack waved to the audience from behind the cameras. 

From around ten o’clock, the members of Congress started arriving, greeted with flag-waving and cheering every time one of them went onto the podium. However, when it was Bush’s turn there was neither flag-waving nor cheering. Some booed, some said, Ladies and gentlemen, the worst American president ever and others simply happily waved him goodbye.

(Image: ©Estefanía Martínez)Then came Barack Obama. The crowd went wild, jumping, furiously waving their flags and shouting his name. It reminded me of a football crowd, and seemed all the stranger because this cheering was for a political leader. The noise died down briefly as Aretha Franklin walked onto the stage to sing the national anthem.

So help me God, the 47-year-old’s voice shook a couple of times during the swearing in ceremony.

During the oath and the speech a deep silence reigned, occasionally punctuated by a yeah, man as though the words of the new president was an agreement between the president and the audience on the new responsibilities the country had to take on. Some people were crying, others smiling, but everyone looked hopeful.

The speech focused on the renewal of America’s image, but also remained true to the first speech he gave in Chicago, even if it was much more focused on political action and strengthening ties with other countries. Obama spoke measuredly and calmly, telling the American people that they would show the world that America is a land of freedom and opportunity. At that point I nearly shed a tear and I don’t know whether it was because it was like the dramatic moment in an American movie or because I really did feel proud to be a resident of this country under the leadership of someone like Obama.

It’s because of their films that, in a way, we’re a little bit jealous of the Americans

It’s because of their films that, in a way, we’re a little bit jealous of the Americans. These films feed our dreams and our hopes. That is why a remake can be a double-edged sword. There’s a study that shows that Hollywood films frustrate audiences because they create expectations that people don’t experience in real life.

The problem with Obama is that ever since his career started in Illinois it’s been compared to Lincoln’s, who abolished slavery and led the country through the American civil war. The history that he is making has to, if possible, be better and what is expected of him could destroy him before he even starts. Obama has to deal with the crisis and unite the Americans after the war, which in this case is abroad. Obama is too good to be true. 

(Image: ©Estefanía Martínez)Many Americans start to think that when the script is too good to be true the ending can’t be a happy one: Obama is too good to be true, they say. It’s like he’s fallen from the sky, he’s the Saviour, and he’s landed in this puritanical country. Americans believe that everything is going to be better now because Obama is in the White House. But things don’t change from one day to the next, nor can just one person bring about those changes. It’s up to all Americans to rebuild the country.

Obama made that quite clear. After all, ‘remake’ can mean the same story being retold but above all ‘remake’ means to rebuild. Obama has already started with the hardest part, strengthening the foundations of a whole nation and making that nation believe that they can, so that it doesn’t all come crashing down.

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Translated from Obama en primera persona: Remaking America