Illinois state senator and political powerhouse Barack Obama said today that Hawaii “taught me the possibilities of different cultures living side by side.” Obama whose performance at the Democratic National Convention last month prompted many to predict that he would someday be the country’s first black president was born in Hawaii and spent many of his formative years in the islands. In an interview today on NPR’s Fresh Air, he spoke in part about growing up here.
“[My father] met my mother in Hawaii at the University of Hawaii where they were both studying,” Obama told NPR. “This is in the early ’60s, and so at that time mixed marriages was illegal in much of the country. But Hawaii, because of its cultural diversity and the unique status it has as an island state, it was more accommodating.”
Obama’s parents separated when he was two, and he lived for a time in Jakarta, Indonesia, before returning to Hawaii at age ten. He entered fifth grade at Punahou Schools, and ultimately graduated with honors.
“My memories of Hawaii and Jakarta I think were significant in my ongoing development, Hawaii because it is such a cultural melting pot, probably unique in the United States for having so many different competing cultures none of which are dominant or assertive,” he said.
He noted that his mixed race wasn’t really a top concern when he was growing up.
“My attitude about being balck was always positive,” Obama said. “When I was an awkward teen, the trouble I had didn’t have to do with being black, it had to do with the fact that I had this funny name… you always want to fit in, you wish your name was Tim Smith.”
His first name means “one who is blessed by God” in Swahili.
In his memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” he wrote: “The irony is that my decision to work in politics, and to pursue such a career in a big Mainland city, in some sense grows out of my Hawaiian upbringing, and the ideal that Hawaii still represents in my mind.”
An updated edition of the book was released this week.