The Obama Family's Multicultural Weapons

Barack Obama
Barack Obama and sister Maya at his high school graduation. (Family Photo)
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By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Michelle Obama is already a formidable weapon on the campaign trail -- now, as the Democratic presidential race really heats up, expect to see more of Barack Obama's secret weapons: big sister Auma Obama and little sis Maya Soetoro-Ng.

The two women, who've quietly stumped in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key states, have such low profiles that many voters don't realize Obama has half siblings -- one's African, the other half-Asian. "I could sometimes see folks trying to make out the family resemblances," Maya said in an e-mail.

Auma, who is in her late 40s, is the daughter of Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr ., and his first wife, Kezia (he also fathered five other sons). The social worker lives in Nairobi and first met her half brother in the mid-1980s; in 1987, she took him to his ancestral village and introduced him to his African relatives.

Maya, 37, is the daughter of Obama's American mother, Ann Dunham, and second husband Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian businessman. She grew up with Obama in Indonesia and Hawaii. On the campaign trail, she shares her childhood memories: They used to spend hours talking on the phone -- her pouring out frustration or uncertainty, him dispensing slightly bossy big-brotherly advice. Now Maya is a wife, mother and teacher in Honolulu; they still talk every week, but the calls are necessarily shorter.

The two sisters have stayed on message, rarely revealing anything personal -- although they did tell volunteers in Iowa that Maya beat Barack at their annual Scrabble match last year, but this year he beat her. (Auma had the good sense to beg off the game.)

"I think the most important thing I can do (other than provide some sisterly sanctuary now and then) is to share the reasons why, even if he wasn't my big brother, I would be just as passionate in my support of his candidacy," said Maya.

Sorry, You're Not On the List

One in an occasional series of dispatches from parties you should have crashed.

Event: Opening of Google's first D.C. office, downtown, Thursday night.

Ambiance: Techno music, dim club lighting, walls covered in flickering LED displays, computer stations showing off all the wonderful things you can do with Google products.

Guests: Antitrust lawyers, FCC staffers, tech sales reps, e-politics gurus and other folks who might come in handy one day.

Food: Lavish. Tuna sashimi, lamb chops, mini burgers, tempura shrimp, moo shu pancakes, corn pudding, mini ice cream sandwiches, mango and coffee popsicles.

Bar: Open! Cocktails served in glowy-neon cups with whimsical straws.

Distractions: The Google office game room -- not just foosball and Ping-Pong like every other tech firm had back in 1999, but also Guitar Hero and Legos!

Revelation: Google staffers all seem to use yoga balls at their work stations.

Freebies: Hard candy in the Google colors (blue, green, red, yellow); baseball caps and business card holders emblazoned with the Google logo (like we don't see that enough every day).


Two weeks ago, Al Hunt was rescued by New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu, who performed the Heimlich maneuver when a piece of chicken got stuck in the 65-year-old editor's throat during dinner in New Hampshire. On Friday, Sununu made a surprise visit to Hunt's office at Bloomberg News and presented a framed poster autographed 15 years ago by Henry Heimlich -- along with his note to Hunt: "Thanks for being there when you needed me." The staff got a "huge kick" out of the gag, said Hunt, who's looking for the perfect spot to hang the poster.

This Just In ...

Kiefer Sutherland was released from an L.A. jail in the wee hours Monday after serving 48 days on a drunken driving charge. To avoid the media, the "24" star was escorted out the back door at 12:05 a.m., ending seven weeks on the jail's laundry detail; he's now on five years' probation.

Director Oliver Stone is now taking on President Bush in a biopic with Josh Brolin in the role, reports Variety. Stone says he wants to explore the president's life and rise to power. The script was finished before the writers' strike; Stone hopes to get the film in theaters by November.

Hey, Isn't That ...

Gilbert Arenas and Mya hanging out at Gazuza on Friday night. The Wizards star and the singer brought five friends to the trendy Dupont Circle bar, where they ordered drinks and two hookahs: apricot tobacco and cherry tobacco.

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