Everything about Barry seemed different to his classmates and first-grade teacher, Israela Pareira, at S.D. Katolik Santo Fransiskus in Jakarta, Indonesia. He came in wearing shoes and socks, with long pants, a black belt and a white shirt neatly tucked in. The other boys wore short pants above the knee, and they often left their flip-flops or sandals outside the classroom and studied in bare feet. Barry was the only one who could not speak Bahasa Indonesia that first year. Ms. Pareira was the only one who understood his English. He was a fast learner, but in the meantime some boys communicated with him in a sign language they jokingly called
When [his mother] Ann accompanied him to school the first day, Ms. Pareira was confused. He looked like he was from Ambon, one of the thousands of islands comprising Indonesia. It was nearly 1,500 miles east of Jakarta, and the people there were known for having darker skin. In itself, this was no big deal; the classroom was heterogeneous: Javanese, Betawanese, Bataknese, Padangnese, Ambonese, Christian and Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist. But he did not look like his mother.
“She introduced herself as a foreigner, coming from Hawaii, and she pointed at Barry — ‘This is my son.’ We — me and the students who saw them for the first time — only asked ourselves, ‘How come his mother’s skin is bright while her son’s is way darker?’ It was a big question for us. But watching her drop him off at school [day after day], we became used to the idea that Barry is her son.”
To the other students, Barry’s young mother was even more exotic than he was, with her pale skin and long hair and sharp dresses.
“Whether you’re a Tamura or a Ching or an Obama, we share the same world.”
In Jakarta, many local kids looked at all Westerners as members of the wealthy class. But in Honolulu, many native Hawaiian boys displayed a prove-yourself-or-else hostility toward people with roots on the mainland. Where did this leave a hapa boy who lived with white relatives but had just returned from Indonesia and was half-African in a place where there were precious few blacks? His grandfather had told strangers that the boy was a descendent of native Hawaiian royalty. Some classmates remembered it differently, that Obama claimed his father was an Indonesian prince.
In retrospect, he would say that his name alone separated him, starting with the first day of fifth grade when his teacher introduced him fully — first, middle and last, Barack Hussein Obama. But in polyglot Hawaii, even his prep school was more than a collection of Johns and Susans and Binghams and Cookes. From a list of contemporaries, Barack mingled with the first names Nunu, Kaui, Sigfried, Malia, Lutz, Manu, Linnea, Saichi, Wada, Kalele and Nini. And for last names, Obama was there with Oba, Ochoa, Ogata, Ohama, Oishi, Okada, Oshiro, Osuna and Ota.