Washington D.C. – The inauguration of an American President has always been a monumental historical event dating back to April 30, 1789; when George Washington was first inaugurated. Just as Washington addressed the common interests and concerns of U.S. citizens in his inauguration speech, so too, Barack Obama addressed common issues of an increasingly diverse U.S. citizenry in the 21st century.
Like his predecessors, Obama used the occasion of his second Inaugural Address to specify his priorities during his last term as President of the United States.
One of the most important parts of his inauguration speech focused on gay-rights. There were also a number of nonverbal aspects of the inauguration that implicitly drew attention to diversity, while yet other elements seemed to speak to Latin America and its community within the United States.
Unambiguously, President Obama appeared to set the tone and direction for his last term in office as he clearly used the occasion to make the first direct reference to gay-rights in an Inaugural Address.
More than halfway through his speech Obama made a reference to Stonewall Inn, where during the morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York City Police raided the Greenwich Village gay bar, and inadvertently sparked a series of spontaneous riots by members of the gay community.
The event is widely considered to be the single most important moment triggering the gay liberation movement and modern fight for gay and lesbian rights in the United States.
History has since revealed that American gays and lesbians in the two decades spanning from 1950 through the 1960s faced a legal system more anti-homosexual than those of some Warsaw Pact countries.
Early homophobia groups in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society, and they favored non-confrontational education for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. The last years of the 1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social movements were active, including the African American Civil Rights Movement, the Counterculture of the 1960s, the women’s rights movement and antiwar demonstrations. These influences, along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served as the catalysts for the Stonewall riots.
In the same sentence that Obama referred to Stonewall, he also mentioned Seneca Falls and Selma as he compared women’s rights, and the African-American civil-rights movements of the 1960s to the gay-rights movement that is currently at the forefront of today’s social-political and religious conversation. No U.S. president to date had ever mentioned these three movements together let along equate their significance as distinctly equal to one another.
While yet on the subject of gay-rights, Obama zeroed in, stating: “For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
In his second term, Obama was clearly outlining an agenda calling for an end to discrimination and perhaps it could be argued that his speech also implied a recognition of same-sex marriage on a national scale.
According to published reports, polls have increasingly revealed that public opinion has shifted towards favoring gar-rights; and it appears that the President is committed to taking advantage of this statistical turn of events.
Though his second Inaugural Address makes only one reference to Latin Americans, stating, “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity;” nevertheless, Obama’s legacy through his last four years might be the most important among resent U.S. Presidents in strengthening relations between Latin American Countries and undocumented Latin Americans living within U.S. borders.
What his inauguration speech didn’t say, but nevertheless, seems apparent in our present political atmosphere is that Obama may actually become the best U.S. president for the Latin American region in recent times.
And the reasons that American’s statue in Latin American may rise might not have anything to do with him prioritizing the region.
If we simply examine his recent accomplishments in the 2012 Presidential Elections, Obama had a 71-27 margin of victory among Latino voters. As a result, it is highly probable that Obama will be able to pass an immigration reform plan that could legalize many of the estimated 11 million undocumented residents in the United States.
Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Colombia and Ecuador would stand to benefit from changes in the immigration status of millions of Latinos living in the U.S.
Most experts agree that once undocumented workers are able get legal status, they will get better jobs, and as a result, can send more money to their relatives back home.
Manuel Orozco, author of “Migrant Remittances and Development in the Global Economy,” says that the $73 billion that U.S.-based undocumented workers send to Latin America annually is likely to increase by 18 percent if their immigration status is legalized. Thus, instead of $73 billion a sum totaling more than $86 billion would reach Latin America in 2014.
Then there’s Obama’s assault weapons ban proposal that has a good chance of passing congress this year. With the Newtown massacre still fresh in peoples minds, congress is likely to pass a bill banning assault weapons, which would help reduce violence in several Latin American countries that are flooded with weapons smuggled from the U.S.
Mexico, where more than 60,000 people have died in drug-related violence over the past six years, says 83 percent of the weapons seized in its territory are illegally brought in from the United States. The Mexican government, alongside others, have demanded that Washington do something to ban sales of semi-automatic weapons and impose stricter controls on gun purchases.
Many Latin American officials say that since Obama can’t run for a new term, he will be freer to push harder for gun-control laws.
The recent approval of marijuana legalization measures in Colorado and Washington state is likely to allow Obama greater flexibility in drug-related talks with Latin America, and could provide the president with enough leverage to have an advantage in the negotiations.
Over the past year, the presidents of Guatemala, Uruguay, Mexico and Colombia, among others, have called for a serious debate on drug legalization with Washington. They say that four decades of drug interdiction programs have failed to curb trafficking, and that it’s time to divert more funds to education, drug prevention and rehabilitation. According to Dr. Steven Frye, host of Drug Talk on the Las Vegas radio station KDWN AM720, these voices are consistent with a number of veteran groups who are calling for the legalization of marijuana in states like Nevada.
Obama’s stated intentions to negotiate a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, while mostly geared at Asian countries, would also benefit Latin American countries on the Pacific coast, including Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership could become the world’s biggest trade deal if Japan — the world’s third largest economy — decides to join.
Obama’s likely appointment of Sen. John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is expected to lead Sen. Bob Menendez, a supporter of greater U.S. cooperation with Latin America — to replace Kerry as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That’s good news to countries that rely on U.S. assistance.
Though most of these issues were not highlighted in the Obama Inaugural Address, they seemed to be implied by both the tone of the speech and the consequences of his reelection.
Last but not least of the elements apparent during the President’s Inauguration seemed to describe his commitment to diversity. This element, though not explicit in the speech, could be seen by Obama’s choice of bibles used during the swearing in ceremony.
Three days before his inauguration, CBS reported that Obama will be sworn in using the bibles of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. Though it is well known that the president admired both men in terms of what they stood for and their individual accomplishments, one could interpret that the president deliberately intended to emphasize a focus on diversity during his last term.
Though the president spoke on many other subjects including Climate Change and more, gay-rights, Latin America and a sense of equality amongst a diverse social-economic, religious and racial aggregate of people may prove to be the cornerstone of his historical legacy.
D. Chandler Contributed to this Article