Born on Inauguration Day: Finding a global perspective
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It was a recurring nightmare of dying alone inside his parents’ suburban home that haunted Christopher Ashcraft, 27, during his job search after undergrad and graduate school.
Ashcraft was born on January 20, the day of President Ronald Regan’s second inauguration, and as Obama is sworn into office again, Ashcraft said his main concern for the future is job security.
“I’d just like to be happy, which is really hard when you’re always worrying about how long will my job last,” said Ashcraft, who works as a project manager for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., that promotes international and technical collaboration.
“I have a good job now, but it’s contingent on government funding which is in such a precarious place,” he said.
President Obama’s 2012 presidential slogan was “Forward” but for Ashcraft and his colleagues it is a word that has been difficult to put into practice. He has seen many friends move back home with their parents and others come into work only to be laid off.
“I have friends who’ve been doing unpaid internships with master’s degrees, which is ridiculous,” said Ashcraft. “At my organization, for internships we pay $10 an hour and we get hundreds of applications from people with master’s degrees. We hire them sometimes, but it kind of breaks your heart.”
Ashcraft, who is from New York and now lives in Washington D.C., graduated magna cum laude from Boston College with a degree in Political Science and Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.
A year after graduation, Aschraft moved to Egypt to teach English. He left in the summer of 2008, a few months before Obama was elected as the first African-American president.
“It was a cool perspective for me to see people who were non-American, in their country, who were excited for our president,” said Ashcraft.
Unable to watch the election coverage on television, Ashcraft said he walked to the local McDonald’s, where he would often use the wireless connection, to read about the results.
The excitement is less pronounced this time around, according to Ashcraft.
“It was just too idealistic. He made a big speech in Cairo after he won and tried to reset relations with the Muslim world, and that went really well, but there wasn’t a lot of action,” he said.
One of the issues important to him is international engagement. He recognizes the need to repair America’s “dilapidated infrastructure,” but it is equally necessary to offer financial support to other countries, said Ashcraft.
Traveling abroad to Egypt and neighboring countries changed the way he viewed the world and politics. It altered his definition of what the role of government is and should be in a person’s life.
“I remember coming back to the States and being surprised at how many white people there were,” Ashcraft said.
Ashcraft added that before he left for Egypt his father asked why he would want to go to the “torture capital of the world” instead of staying in the U.S. where it afforded all the luxuries he could ever want.
“I mean, in one sense that’s true, but in another sense, it just didn’t have the experience I was searching for,” he said.
Growing up, Ashcraft said he lived a typical American life going to church every week with two parents, a brother and a dog. He calls New York his home, but spent most of his childhood moving to different cities and states every couple years because of his parents’ occupation as pastors with the Salvation Army.
He said his political views are vastly different than those of his conservative parents and older brother. Although lately, he believes his parents are changing, pointing to their decision to vote for Obama in both elections.
In 2008, his father chose to vote for Barack Obama for his social policies towards the poor. And while his travels abroad have changed his own worldview, he said it might have also impacted his parents.
His father traveled to South Africa several years ago for work and Ashcraft said it opened his father’s eyes to massive inequality.
“My mom really likes to travel, but my dad doesn’t. He just wants an American hotel with American food,” said Ashcraft. “They came to visit me in Egypt, which was really big for my dad, and apparently he cried the first night he was there because it was so intense and so different and he saw how I was living.”
Two years ago, Ashcraft told his parents he was gay.
“My dad actually asked me,” said Ashcraft. “He was like ‘I don’t really understand it, but I’ll support you’ and my mom kept asking me if maybe I was just confused.”
Ashcraft described the episode as “incredibly uncomfortable,” and was surprised that his brother, only two years older, didn’t take the news very well.
“I thought – he’s younger, he’ll be way cooler – but no, he wasn’t. We don’t really talk about it,” said Ashcraft.
He said the most important issues for him now are gay rights, international engagement and the growing income inequality he says he sees.
“When everything got bad here in the States, all my energy was directed back here, which surprised me,” said Ashcraft. “Usually, I’ve always said I hate domestic politics; it’s so terrible. But maybe it’s because those are the issues that now affect me personally. That’s completely selfish, but it’s true.”