'Obama' resounds around the world

Claudia Scoica holds her son Obama Sorin Ilie Scoica in Rusciori, Romania. Gypsies like Scoica, who face prejudice, and struggling people all over the globe are particularly inspired by the name.

Associated Press

Claudia Scoica holds her son Obama Sorin Ilie Scoica in Rusciori, Romania. Gypsies like Scoica, who face prejudice, and struggling people all over the globe are particularly inspired by the name.

BUCHAREST, Romania — By his own admission, Barack Obama was "a skinny kid with a funny name," but that isn't stopping proud parents from Romania to Indonesia from naming their newborns after the U.S. president-elect.

Romania's downtrodden Gypsies — once enslaved, like African-Americans, yet still struggling to overcome deep-seated prejudice — seem particularly inspired.

"When I saw Obama on TV, my heart swelled with joy. I thought he was one of us Gypsies because of his skin color," said Maria Savu, whose infant grandson, Obama Sorin Ilie Scoica, was born in the central Romania village of Rusciori.

Little Obama is the third child of a poor family that barely gets by on 200 lei ($66) a month in welfare benefits.

He came into the world on Nov. 4, the day Americans voted in their new multiracial president. Savu, 43, told the Evenimentul Zilei newspaper that she hopes his name will bring him luck.

Obama's victory also moved Sugiarto, a 36-year-old security guard in Jakarta, Indonesia, and his wife, Sularsih, to name their new son after him.

Indonesia, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation made up of more than 18,000 islands, is unabashedly Obama crazy — in part because Obama spent four years there as a child.

"He's great," said Sularsih, 34, rubbing the cheek of their sleeping 1-month-old, Husein Obama. "I think it's a beautiful name for him. And who knows? Maybe one day he'll be president of Indonesia."

Underscoring Obama's popularity across the sprawling archipelago: Many political parties have made up new banners that feature photos of the U.S. leader, and some have even co-opted his "Yes we can" and "change" themes.

Americans also have been naming children for Obama. Patrick and Sasha Hall Fisher of Hollywood, Fla., are credited as being the first: Sanjae Obama Fisher was born a few hours before news outlets declared Obama to be the new president.

In the Dutch city of Leiden, officials proudly announced last week that Obama's roots can be traced to the Pilgrims who eventually settled America after fleeing England in 1609. The Pilgrims spent 11 years in Leiden on their way to the new world.

Obama is a descendant of Thomas Blossom, local alderman Jan-Jaap Haan said, citing research by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston.

"Leiden is proud that our historic city is linked via this family tree to the already special background of the new president of America," Haan said.

But Obama's victory has had a special resonance in corners of the world where the poor see him as an example of the change they crave in their own societies.

Atta Mills, an opposition candidate campaigning on a platform of change in this month's presidential elections in Ghana, put up posters of himself standing next to a life-sized photo cutout of Obama to help make his point to voters.

And in Brazil, at least eight black candidates took advantage of a quirk in electoral laws and opted to have their names appear as "Barack Obama" in October elections.

In Romania, Banel Nicolita, a member of Romania's national soccer team, is a Gypsy who comes from a family of eight that once lived in a house made of mud. His accomplishments, against all odds, have earned him the nickname "the Obama of Romanian football."

Romania officially is home to 500,000 Gypsies, or Roma, although it's widely believed that there are really at least twice as many. Many people of Roma extraction don't declare their ethnicity because of widespread prejudice, and many live in poverty.

The European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency says Gypsies also face routine discrimination in education, employment, health services and housing — just a few of the reasons so many identify with the struggles of U.S. blacks.

"Obama's victory is a motivation for us," said Gruia Bumbu, chairman of the National Agency for the Roma.

Like African-Americans, Gypsies were slaves until roughly the same time in the 19th century. But the Roma never launched a broad civil rights movement, and today, Bumbu said, "we are 20 to 30 years behind."

"When you see that an African-American becomes president, it shows you that the dreams can turn into reality," he said. "It's like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The fight for equal opportunities can have a happy ending."

'Obama' resounds around the world 12/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 11:56am]

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