Celebration and history for a crowd of diversity

Sheryl Gay Stolberg / New York Times News Service /


WASHINGTON — From the musicians in new purple uniforms who traveled from places like Des Moines, Iowa, and Montgomery, Ala., to march with a gay and lesbian band, to high school mariachi performers from Texas — including some who took their first plane ride to get here — to scores of elegant black women in full-length mink coats and matching hats, the faces of Inauguration Day 2013 were the faces of those left behind by the political process in decades and centuries past.

If Jan. 20, 2009, was a day for the history books and a feel-good moment for all of America, Monday was a celebration for the diverse coalition that landed the nation’s first black president in the White House for a second term: Latinos, gay people, women and especially blacks.

Riding on a bus to the heated staging tent on the National Mall, members of the Gay and Lesbian Band Association listened intently as the radio played President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address. A tear streamed down the cheek of Gary Nell, a 53-year-old drum major from Des Moines, as Obama referred to the Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York, which spawned the gay rights movement.

“It was so affirming,” Nell said.

Outside the security perimeter, 11-year-old Angel Lucero, fresh-faced and earnest, politely asked passers-by where he and his family might get tickets to the swearing-in. His parents, Mexican immigrants, spoke little English. His older sister, Jennifer, 15, said they had come from Bladensburg, Md., to see the president “because we think that he’s going to help us, help other people who aren’t free in this country.”

For gay people and Latinos particularly, the president’s second swearing-in was an occasion to savor newfound political clout. But it was also imbued with the sense that Obama had better make good on the promises he failed to keep during his first term, including an immigration overhaul and a repeal of the law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

“This time there is a much higher expectation,” said Jessica Gallegos, 23, a native of Quito, Ecuador, who works for the World Bank. Despite the president’s failure to revamp the nation’s immigration laws, she said, “the community still stood behind him. Now it’s time for him to deliver.”