As the long campaign comes to a close

Erin and I have seen Barack Obama speak three times. We were at Invesco Field for the climactic speech he gave during the Democratic National Convention in Denver. We were in the audience for his interview with CNN during the Unity Conference of journalists of color in Chicago in July. And, almost two years ago, we attended a rally in Aurora, Colorado, we were entranced by his public-speaking ability when he stumped for Ed Perlmutter, the Democratic Congressional candidate in our district.

That was months before Obama officially announced his intention to run for President of the United States, but Erin knew right then and there she’d vote for thr guy. I held out for some months, cynically thinking that because of his race, Hillary Clinton would be the more likely Democrat to win over voters. How wrong I was.

We met Ed Perlmutter the other day, when he and San Jose Congressman Mike Honda, a leader among Asian American pols, came to Sakura Square in downtown Denver, campaigning on Obama’s behalf (Perlmutter is also on the ballot, but although he wasn’t leaving anything to chance, Erin and I had honestly never even heard of his GOP opponent). The two men were in the area trying to ignite interest for the election in the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

They had visited the Alameda Square shopping center earlier in the day and had dim sum with a group of AAPI leaders (including Erin) at Kingsland, the gigantic Chinese restaurant, and then met shoppers at the huge, Vietnamese-owned Pacific Ocean Market. After Sakura Square, they headed east to Aurora, to shake hands at the Korean shopping hub, H-Mart.

Honda sans Perlmutter capped off the day with an evening event (it was billed as a “rally” for Asian small business owners but it felt more like an intimate reception for a smallish group of 50 or so AAPI supporters) in Littleton, which was also a pitch for Hank Eng, the AAPI candidate running for the Congressional seat being vacated by Tom Tancredo.

At Sakura Square, they first visited the temporary upstairs home of the Japanese American Resource Center of Colorado, a temporary museum displaying artifacts from the JA community. It was Erin’s idea to bring the Congressmen to Sakura Square, and it ended up a synchronicitous idea. Part of the JARCC exhibit was a research project mapping out the blocks around Sakura Square, along Larimer Street, and showing the many JA businesses that used to dot the entire area.

It turned out Perlmutter’s family used to own a pawn shop on Larimer, and Perlmutter said he bet his father knew every business on the map, and their owners. He got very animated, recalling the JA community of his youth.

After JARCC, the politicians moved downstairs to street level, and posed in the courtyard at the bust of Ralph Carr, the governor of Colorado when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, who fought against the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in U.S. concentration camps. Carr’s memory has recently been preserved with a fine biography by our friend Adam Schrager, a reporter at 9News, and with the naming of Colorado highway 285 by the state.

Then they spent some time schmoozing inside Pacific Mercantile, the supermarket that’s run by the thrid generation of the Inai family. We explained to Honda, who as an infant was interned with his family during WWII at the Amache concentration camp in southeast Colorado, that the Japanese American national museum in LA honored the Inai family — the current generation’s brother and sister team of Kyle and Jolie manage the store — several years ago at a banquet.

Honda was happy to have some Japanese snacks — “it’s just like home,” he chortled — and the two men relaxed and spoke with anyone and everyone in the store.

Througout the day and at the evening’s reception, Honda (and Perlmutter and Eng) was on message: Vote early, vote Democrat, and don’t take victory for granted. Honda extolled the Obama blueprint for Asian Americans (something I’ll have to download and read from the Obama website), and reminded everyone about the historic nature of the election, and how the Obama and Eng campaigns still needed donations and volunteers to close out the final days.

So, the question is: Did you vote early? If not, will you vote on Tuesday?

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