MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Barack Obama's family presents a racial tableau unlike anything ever seen in a presidential nominee's family tree. His mother was white, from Kansas, his father black and Kenyan. He grew up surrounded by the aloha culture of Hawaii. Obama's extended family includes many mixed marriages, white, black, Indonesian, Chinese, Canadian. This week, our co-host, Michele Norris, is talking with people who knew Obama long before the campaign, and she spoke with the candidate's half-sister, Maya Soetero-Ng, whose father was Indonesian. She told Michele the family revels in its diversity.
Ms. MAYA SOETERO-NG: We are colorful, for sure.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And it's been widely acknowledged, that certain challenge for the campaign. How far will America have to stretch to cross that boundary and sort of fully embrace or understand what it will see in that tableau?
Ms. SOETERO-NG: I don't think it's going to be that challenging. I think that the American people are ready. I think they understand that our family actually reflects the American tapestry and that we are not particularly exotic. We are a regular family. We do regular things. I think they're - I'm hoping that they will see the warmth and the affection of their own families. I mean, I think it's marvelous that we have blondes in our family and we have - unfortunately, the Kenyan contingent won't be here. But I have great hope that that spectrum will be regarded as gorgeous and that everyone will see themselves in it.
NORRIS: In a family that spans continents, races and religions, how did you discuss diversity in your family? Was it something that was discussed or was it something that just was?
Ms. SOETERO-NG: Our mother always told us that we were fortunate. She didn't present it as a struggle in any way, and I don't think she felt it to be. I mean, she may have been protective in some respects, but I think, in this respect, she was being very honest and sort of seeing, hey, what's the problem, you know? This is - it's all good. I remember, right after I had a baby, I found this box, it said for Maya's children. Mom had put it in the closet, and it contained all of my dolls. And it was pretty hilarious because the dolls, you know, there was like Mei Ling from China in her cheongsam, and, you know, an Inuit...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SOETERO-NG: ...woman, and, you know, Elizabeth, you know, who's a pretty little black girl in a red gingham dress. And there was a little Dutch boy, you know, blond with his clogs. And part of it was naive, probably, in that it sort of -these images didn't necessarily reflect the real living complexity of these cultures and the fact that there may be, you know, genuine problems in the world. But at the same time, I appreciated that hopefulness. And I'm glad that she preserved it at all cost.
NORRIS: Barack Obama wrote a book about his father.
Ms. SOETERO-NG: Yeah.
NORRIS: But at the end of the book, he wrote that in trying to discover more about his father, he realized the person who really had the most influence on his life was his mother.
Ms. SOETERO-NG: Yeah.
NORRIS: If she were here, what would she be telling him right now?
Ms. SOETERO-NG: I don't know. I mean, I would say that I think she would just sort of express her pride.
NORRIS: Maya, I'm sorry. I don't want to take you any place you don't want to go.
Ms. SOETERO-NG: It's cool. This has happened a lot this campaign.
NORRIS: I have tissues.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SOETERO-NG: Well, fortunately, it's not up to me. But then anyway, no, I think our mother would be very pleased with the job that he's doing because she always emphasized empathy and inclusion, and I think that my brother has increased empathy between groups and this has been a really inclusive campaign. And I think she would be incredibly proud. And I don't think she would give him any advice that in any way contradicts what he has been doing.
NORRIS: Maya Soetero-Ng, thank you so much...
Ms. SOETERO-NG: Thank you.
NORRIS: ...for spending time with us.
Ms. SOETERO-NG: Thank you. It was fun.
SIEGEL: Barack Obama's sister, talking with Michele Norris in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
When Barack Obama finishes his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, his extended family will join him onstage — and present America with a tableau unlike anything they've ever seen at a nominating convention. "We are colorful, for sure," Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's sister, told Michele Norris.
Obama's Sister: U.S. To See A Family Tapestry
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
When Barack Obama finishes his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, his extended family will join him onstage — and present America with a tableau unlike anything they've ever seen at a nominating convention.
"We are colorful, for sure," Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama's sister, told Michele Norris.
Obama's mother was white and from Kansas; his father was black and Kenyan. Obama and Soetoro-Ng grew up in the unique culture of Hawaii.
"I have great hope that that spectrum will be regarded as gorgeous, and that everyone will see themselves in it," said Soetoro-Ng, who teaches high school in Hawaii.
In Obama's extended family, there are many mixed marriages, encompassing white, black, Indonesian and Chinese-Canadian.
But, Soetoro-Ng said, the audience should also realize that the Obamas are a family like any other.
"I'm hoping that they will see the warmth and the affection of their own families" when the audience looks at the group onstage, she said.
Obama's political opponents are expected to attempt to use that wide diversity against Obama in the presidential campaign, to suggest that it will be a challenge for voters to accept the family's diversity.
"But I don't think it's going to be that challenging," Soetoro-Ng said. "I think that the American people are ready. I think they understand that our family actually reflects the American tapestry."
And the group won't reflect its full range: The family's Kenyan contingent won't be able to be present.
Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, raised her children to look at their diversity as a strength.
"She encouraged us to use it well," Soetoro-Ng said, as something that gave them the ability to live anywhere, and to relate to anyone — even, it turns out, on the presidential campaign trail.