Sunday, February 01, 2009

What is Family?


I just finished reading Barack Obama's 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father. The book is a bit of a sprawling mess, pretty unfocused and without a clear thesis. In some ways, it is two books uncertainly jammed together -- a book about growing up bi-racial in Hawaii, and a book about one man's introduction to his Kenyan heritage. The book could have benefited from some brutal editing in terms of content and direction. Nevertheless, it was an interesting glimpse into one man's search for identity.

I decided to look into Obama's family tree because I was fascinated by its variety. Kenyan father, WASP mother, Indonesian stepfather, and so so many half/step siblings. Reading Obama's memoir, I was interested to learn about his father's multiple wives and the fluidity of their relationships. Was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. a bigamist? Maybe. It's hard to say, because cultural definitions of marriage and divorce differ between the United States and Kenya.

Watching the recent presidential inauguration, I was struck by the diversity of the Obama family. Sitting behind the new First Family were Maya Soetoro-Ng, Barack's Indonesian-American half-sister, and her Chinese-Canadian husband, Auma Obama, Barack's Kenyan half-sister, Craig Robinson, Michelle's brother and his caucasian wife. What must they have been feeling?

I think that while America has always prided itself as being a nation of immigrants (ignoring the Native Americans while they say this), the rulers of this country have generally been pretty darn WASP-y. I can't help but thinking that the variety of Obama's heritage and experience will be good for our young nation.

I have to admit it -- I get great pleasure imagining what Thanksgiving at the White House might look like, this year.

(According to the Obama family tree, it looks like I might be a distant relative of Obama's maternal grandfather. His great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother and I are likely to be part of the same Demarest family. And he may also be related to my best friend from grade school. There's a Wilburn in his maternal grandmother's family.)

Rejecting tradition, this administration seems to have hired aides who have been trained as mimes. What on earth is going on in this photograph?


Anonymous said...

hey there- hope you are feeling better.

In case you had forgot, the was a bit of a stink early on in the campaign when dick cheney's wife wrote a book and included their family tree in it.

Apparently the obamas had at one time been owned by the cheney's, in the way that one of obama's early kenyan relitives had been a slave of the cheneys. Also, the mccains also used to be slave owners. So, that being said, what the heck?

Is it a pre-requisite too have slave owners in the family line before you can be a Republican, or what?


. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Here's what I found on that subject. The relationship is on Obama's maternal grandfather's side. I don't think there's any American slave history in Obama's family. His connection to Africa is directly through his father.

I was staying away from that topic, because Robb was teasing me about being related to Cheney.

Anonymous said...

Cheney's family ranch is in Casper, Wyoming, right next to my sister's ex-husband's family. Ick. They have since moved to Jackson hole. Also, the cheney's plastered their name onto everything they could before they left town, its now on the local high school, municipal building, etc.

I am not related to anyone famous, myself. I guess it's up to me then to create that distinction in the family. I just hope it's not by me being featured on a "cops" episode or something like that! I hate when that happens.


Anonymous said...

The family tree thing CAN be a bit wierd that way, esp. when you can do searches on the internet for your own heritage, and who comes up as part of that search? Somebody famous! I had the distinct displeasure of informing my father that he is Dubya's 12th cousin. Ugh. All with a grain of salt, though. I'm 100% Democrat.


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