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Euphoria grips Queens for Obama’s inauguration

From the heart of the borough’s African-American community in Jamaica to Flushing Town Hall and a St. Albans elementary school, Queens residents celebrated a watershed moment in the country’s history as President Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation’s first black president.

Cynthia Lashley, a black woman from Flushing, was overwhelmed with emotion as she listened to Obama’s inaugural address from the theater at Flushing Town Hall, which also drew Chinese, Koreans, South Asians and students.

“I carried an American flag with me all day,” she said. “It somehow became my country that day. I mean, it always has been, but this was different, this was so special. It’s like a dream.”

Pakistani immigrant Sarwa Singh, who was also at Flushing Town Hall, said the swearing-in ceremony was “such a good day for America.”

“For immigrants, for minorities, for the country,” he said. “Just for everyone. So good, so great.”

At PS 36 in St. Albans, students commemorated the inauguration with a luncheon and play in honor of Obama, his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha. The kids served “Obama punch” and meatballs and chicken wraps to hundreds of their peers, who gathered in the auditorium to hear the new president’s address.

During Obama’s speech, the children screamed with delight and hugged each other.

“I’m really excited Obama’s president,” said fifth-grader Maegan Ishmael. “He’s the first black man to become president, and it’s a really great accomplishment. I’ve been happy all day.”

In Washington, D.C., 1.4 million people packed the National Mall from the Washington Monument to the front of the Capitol to witness the historic occasion, some with tears in their eyes.

In his inauguration speech, Obama acknowledged the challenges the country faces, including the weak economy and the threat of terrorism, but he offered hope they would be met.

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America,” he said. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility.”

The new president pledged to build the country’s infrastructure and to start leaving Iraq’s future “up to its people.”

In a message to terrorists, Obama said, ‘Our spirit is stronger, we cannot be broken, you cannot outlast us and we will defeat you.”

To governments that “blame their society’s ills on the West,” he said, “your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

Obama reiterated an approach to foreign affairs that he laid out in his campaign, saying, “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

He ended the address by invoking then-Gen. George Washington’s speech to Revolutionary War soldiers gathered by a river as the capital was abandoned, drawing parallels to current times.

“With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents and endure what storms may come,” he said.

Justina Aghwana, a 31-year-old Jamaica resident who listened to those words from the Central Library in Jamaica, said the address was “a beautiful speech.”

“It was short, but it touched everything and everybody,” she said.

Reporters Anna Gustafson, Ivan Pereira and Stephen Stirling contributed to this story.

 

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