Obama Had Multiethnic Existence in Hawaii
Tuesday, February 6, 2007; 2:33 AM
HONOLULU -- He was known as Barry Obama, and with his dark complexion and mini-Afro, he was one of the few blacks at the privileged Hawaiian school overlooking the Pacific.
Yet that hardly made him stand out.
Diversity was the norm at the Punahou School, one of the state's top private schools. The 3,600 students came from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a blend of Polynesian, Asian, European and other cultures. Everybody in Hawaii is a minority.
At Punahou, Barack Obama was known primarily for his appealing personality, his honesty and his aggressive play on the basketball court.
"It was a good melting pot. There were people from all different races," said Eric Smith, a friend and classmate of Obama's in the 1970s. "Everyone seemed to meld together."
As he pursues the presidency, the chapters of Obama's unfamiliar biography are drawing greater scrutiny. The Democratic senator from Illinois was born in Honolulu 45 years ago and lived in one the country's most diverse metropolitan areas for the better part of 18 years. He spent four childhood years in Indonesia.
In his 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father," Obama recalls experiencing some discrimination growing up in the islands, such as when other kids laughed at his name. He also wrote about his internal struggles as black friends would accuse all white people of mistreating others _ harsh words as Obama was being raised by his white mother and grandparents.
"I tried to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant," he wrote.
But Obama acknowledges he wasn't growing up in the Jim Crow South or the housing projects of Harlem _ he was in Hawaii, where his peers mostly treated him the same as others.
"He always had a basketball in his hands and was always looking for a pickup game," said teammate Larry Tavares, 46, now an estate planner at First Hawaiian Bank.
Obama's parents, Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr., met and married in Honolulu _ a white woman from the mainland and a black man from Kenya.
After that marriage failed, Obama, at age 6, left Hawaii to live for four years in Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather, Lolo Soetoro. In 1971, she sent Obama, then 10, back to Hawaii to be with his maternal grandparents mostly because she wanted him to receive his education at Punahou, which boasts a rigorous high school curriculum.