[Forever President] Barack Obama

by Miss YaYa Vargas

Known as the first Black president of The United States, serving two terms as the 44th Head of State, few may know of Barack Obama’s extremely diverse family tree.

Barack Hussein Obama II was born in Honolulu, Hawaii August 4, 1961, making him the first president born outside the neighboring 48 states.

His mother, Ann Dunham (1942–1995), born in Wichita, Kansas, was an American anthropologist who specialized in the economic anthropology and rural development of Indonesia. She was known to be mostly of English descent, with some German, Irish, Scottish, Swiss, and Welsh ancestry.


Barack Obama Sr. (1936–1982), was a Luo Kenyan from Nyang’oma Kogelo, and a Kenyan senior governmental economist. At the age of 23, leaving behind a pregnant wife and infant son in his home town, he was selected for a special scholarship program to study in the West, attending the University of Hawaii as the first African foreign student.

In 1960 he met Dunham in a basic Russian language course at the University of Hawaii, and started dating soon after. She became pregnant and the two were married on the Hawaiian island of Wailuku, Hawaii on February 2, 1961, despite parental opposition from both families, and six months before Obama Jr. was born.

They later separated and were legally divorced March 1964, whereupon Ann Dunham was granted sole custody of their son.

His mother rewed once. Dunham met Javanese surveyor Lolo Soetoro, while studying at the East–West Center in 1962. The two married in Hawaii in 1965, where Soetoro then returned to his homeland, Indonesia. After graduating from the University of Hawaii with a B.A. in anthropology, Dunham moved October of 1966 with her six-year-old son to Jakarta, Indonesia, to rejoin her husband. Obama became a big brother to Maya Soetoro-Ng, August 1970. Dunham and Soetoro divorced in 1980.

As a result of the four years he lived in Jakarta, Obama was able to speak Indonesian fluently as a child. He has been quoted as saying, during his time in Indonesia, his step-father taught him to be resilient and gave him “a pretty hardheaded assessment of how the world works.”

In June 1964, Obama Sr. met and began dating 27-year-old Jewish-American elementary school teacher, Ruth Beatrice Baker, the daughter of prosperous Lithuanian immigrants to the United States. She travelled with him to Kenya later that year, where he worked for the Kenyan government as the Senior Economic Analyst in the Ministry of Finance. In his tho9rd attempt at marriage, they wed and had two sons, Mark and David. The couple separated in 1971 and divorced in 1973.

While in Kenya, Obama Sr. reconnected with his first wife. She then had two sons after his return: Abo (b. 1968) and Bernard (b. 1970), believed to be his children. In his memoir Dreams from My Father (1995), Barack Obama II said that his father’s family questioned whether Abo and Bernard are Barack Sr.’s biological sons.

In 1971, Obama Sr. visited Hawaii for a month and spent time with his son Barack II, then 10 years old. It was the first time since infancy, as well as their last major personal interaction, seeing his son face to face.

In total Obama II was raised with his one half- sister on his mothers side, and has seven half- siblings on his fathers side- six of them living.

In a 2006 interview, Obama highlighted the diversity of his extended family: “It’s like a little mini-United Nations,” he said. “I’ve got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I’ve got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher.”

In Dreams from My Father, Obama ties his mother’s family history to possible Native American ancestors and distant relatives of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. He also shares distant ancestors in common with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, among others.

Obama later reflected on his years in Honolulu and wrote: “The opportunity Hawaii offered—to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect—became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.”

After graduating from high school in 1979, Obama moved to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College on a full scholarship. In mid-1981, Obama traveled to Indonesia to visit his mother and half-sister Maya, and said to have visited the families of college friends in Pakistan and India for three weeks.  Later in 1981, he transferred as a junior to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialty in international relations  and in English literature.

Fast forward to Obama meeting Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, who would eventually become the first African-American first lady. Robinson met Barack Obama when they were among the few African Americans at their law firm, and she was assigned to mentor him while he was a summer associate, later marrying October 3, 1992.

Her family has traced it’s roots to pre-Civil War African Americans in the American SouthOn her father’s side, she is descended from the Gullah people of South Carolina’s Low Country region. Her paternal great-great grandfather, Jim Robinson, was born into slavery in 1850 on Friendfield Plantation, near Georgetown, South CarolinaHe became a freedman at age 15 after the war. All four of Robinson’s grandparents had multiracial ancestors, reflecting the complex history of the U.S. Her distant ancestry includes Irish, English, and Native American roots, similar to that of Obama’s mothers blood line.

This complex, yet rich, history is now carried by their daughters Malia Ann, born 1998, and Natasha, also known as Sasha, was born 2001.

An idiom from a poem written by William Wordsworth that says, “Child is father of the man”, can best describe America’s Forever President. Obama was exposed to so many ways of life having been raised in Hawaii, and then Seattle for a short while, by a resilient multi- cultural single mother and her parents, back to Hawaii, and then Indonesia, as a child. To his years living on the Upper West Side of New York City during his Colombia University years, to Chicago while teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, and beyond, molding him to be the well- rounded empathetic leader we know as our 44th president.

Leave a comment