Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Si SE Puede!

Location: Non-descript window, Southpark Street, San Francisco, July 29, 2008. 1:45 pm

No one knows what day of his 25-day fast in 1972 Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta came up with "Si se puede"--one of the most famous slogans in U. S. History.

Though it means "yes, it can be done" in Spanish, it has migrated into English with the more direct, more communal translation of "Yes we can." Barack Obama has rather ingeniously seized on both meanings of the phrase, but the latter, more succinct version has emerged as his standard catch phrase. See, for example, one of the very first SemiObama posts on the now-classic video.

The poster to the left, though spotted in San Francisco, was designed to appeal to Latino/a and Chicano/a voters in Texas. Obama even looks a little Latin here, as though merely bronzed by the hot Texas sun. What's interesting is how the poster bounces back, un-translates the motto, returning Chavez's assertions to its original impulses.

Si se puede is more political than "yes we can."

The latter connotes community, optimism, and cooperation, while the latter carries connotations of revolution. In fact, it is actually closer in spirit to "We shall overcome" than it is to "Yes we can."

But, the magic of Obama is his ability to transform the verbal into the vision. He can make any linguistic concept part and parcel of his politics. For him, it is all vernacular. Which is why the absence of the soft Obama blue and the standard logo "O" so pervasive on his campaign texts doesn't feel missing on this poster.

Still, we will have to see if the passion and politics of Chavez are enough to break the decades-long fast Texas Democrats have endured as they have been waiting to feast at the grand buffet that is the U.S. presidency.


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