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Obama’s half sister playing to Hawaii ties for campaign

February 17, 2008
By MELISSA TANJI, Staff Writer
WAIKAPU — Barack Obama’s half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, said she isn’t taking “anything for granted” in the Hawaii Democratic caucuses Tuesday.

But “I’m hoping he’ll do very well indeed,” Soetoro-Ng said Saturday prior to speaking before nearly 200 people at a Maui Democratic Century Club luncheon at the Maui Tropical Plantation. “I hope that people make sure Hawaii is heard and seen.”

As Soetoro-Ng has done in other speeches in the islands, she touted her brother’s Hawaii ties and pulled on local heartstrings.

Her brother attended public school on Oahu and graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu before moving to the Mainland and embarking on his political career.

Soetoro-Ng lives in Hawaii and teaches at La Pietra — Hawaii School for Girls in Honolulu and at the University of Hawaii.

“I want to emphasize my brother loves these islands. He loves these islands with every fiber of his being,” Soetoro-Ng told the crowd.

She said Obama, his wife and children come back to Hawaii often and eat shaved ice, sushi and plate lunches.

“So much who he is, he credits Hawaii for,” she said. “His ability to build bridges between worlds was built in these islands. That’s an important ability to have today.”

Soetoro-Ng recalled that after her brother graduated from Harvard, he had many lucrative job offers but instead put his attention to community organizing and assisted those less fortunate and those without resources.

“So please don’t think he had less experience. He’s got tons of experience in my estimate,” she said to applause.

Obama critics have pointed to his inexperience as only being a first-term senator versus Clinton’s lengthier experience in office.

Soetoro-Ng also shared how Obama took care of her after the deaths of her parents.

She said her brother taught her poetry and philosophy and the first book he gave her was by award-winning African American author Toni Morrison, who has since endorsed Obama.

Obama and his half sister also shared long walks and jazz music.

“He let me mess with his fro (afro),” she said with a laugh. “He had a pick in his back pocket.”

Obama also took her to see colleges and took her traveling after her parents’ deaths that showed her there was still a world of possibilities out there.

“I believe that there are many good options out there, Barack Obama is a great option,” she said.

Soetoro-Ng’s visit to Maui generated much excitement about her brother’s campaign.

“Right now, I want him to win Hawaii and the rest of the nation,” said Waikapu resident Norma Piltz.

She and husband Randy said they are political independents, but they favor Obama’s bid for president. They wanted to hear from Obama’s half sister.

Norma Piltz said she likes Obama’s enthusiasm and charisma and “most likely” she will go to the caucuses Tuesday.

Moki Slonim of Paia called Soetoro-Ng’s visit to Maui “great” and said Obama has such a diverse ethnic background that he “spans the globe.”

He said he has been waiting since the late former President John F. Kennedy to have a president again who will bring economic justice and a peace platform to the nation.

Aside from her appearance at the Maui Tropical Plantation, Soetoro-Ng was scheduled to be at an “Obama for America” fundraiser Saturday afternoon at a residence in Paia.

Even though Obama was born in Honolulu and spent almost 18 years in Hawaii, which would likely make him an island favorite, the Obama campaign has been pulling out all the stops, buying radio and television ads and burning up phone lines to get out likely Obama supporters for Hawaii’s Democratic vote for the presidential nominee.

The frenzied activity comes as the Illinois U.S. Senator is locked in a tight race with U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Hawaii’s 20 delegate votes are being hotly contested.

The Clinton campaign has also been pushing hard in the state and Chelsea Clinton, the former first daughter, will make an appearance at a rally from noon to 2 p.m. today at the David P. Trask Building at 2145 Kaohu St. in Wailuku.

Obama’s father, Barack Obama Sr., was a black man from a poor village in Kenya, and his mother, Ann Dunham, was a white woman whose parents grew up in Kansas. They met at the University of Hawaii and married in Honolulu.

After the marriage failed, a 6-year-old Obama left Hawaii to spend four years in Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather, Lolo Soetoro. It was in Indonesia that his sister was born.

In 1971, when he was 10, Obama’s mother sent him back to Honolulu to stay with his maternal grandparents.

“Although my brother is American, he does have Kenyan blood, and Kenyans always win the marathon,” Soetoro-Ng said to laughs and applause.

In answering questions from the crowd, Soetoro-Ng said Obama would “support greater choice” in health care in what treatments people would like to have as well as make sure generic medications are also available.

Obama also has a “comprehensive” package for education and will push for after-school and summer programs and head start and early-childhood education programs, she said. He also would advocate mentorship programs for teachers and administrators, as well as change the “high-stakes testing” that is currently going on in schools as part of the “No Child Left Behind” mandate in which “teachers have to teach to the test,” she said.

With teachers focusing on testing, education in music and dance and other arts are lost, she said.

• Melissa Tanji can be reached at

Article Photos

“I want to emphasize my brother loves these islands. He loves these islands with every fiber of his being.”
– Maya Seotoro-Ng,, Barack Obama’s half sister

The Maui News / AMANDA?COWAN photo



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