Sunday, July 25, 2004

Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama, D-Chicago, spoke to members of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police yesterday in Springfield, Ill.

Lucky to live Hawaii

Barack Obama credits his isle
upbringing for his basis of values

Barack Obama says he owes so much to Hawaii.

"It's where my parents met, where I was born and where I was raised," said the U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois, who takes the national stage Tuesday night as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention.

"But most importantly it's the place where I learned the ability to relate to a lot of different people," Obama said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Chicago, where he was campaigning before heading to Boston. "That has carried over and has had an impact on my politics."

The 42-year-old state senator and Harvard-educated law professor is heavily favored in his bid to become the fifth black senator in history. He says he feels lucky to have been raised in Hawaii, and says that upbringing formed the basis of his values.

A photo of Obama from his days at Punahou School.

"Hawaii's spirit of tolerance might not have been perfect or complete, but it was -- and is -- real," said Obama, the son of a black African father and Caucasian mother from Kansas, who met at the University of Hawaii.

"The opportunity that Hawaii offered -- to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect -- became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear," he wrote in a Fall 1999 essay in the Punahou Bulletin, the magazine of his alma mater.

Obama, a 1979 graduate of Punahou School and member of the Buffanblu state championship basketball team, received his bachelor's degree in political science from Columbia University, and a law degree from Harvard, where he was the first African-American elected president of the Harvard Law Review.

He worked as a community organizer in New York and Chicago on job-training programs and other projects, and as a civil rights lawyer in Chicago. He is now a senior instructor in constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.

"The irony is that my decision to work in politics, and to pursue such a career in a big mainland city, in some sense grows out of my Hawaiian upbringing, and the ideal that Hawaii still represents in my mind," he said.

After law school, he considered returning to Hawaii. "But I was interested in working with low-income urban communities and felt I could make my biggest contribution on the mainland," he told the AP.

When his parents married in 1961, Hawaii was as close as America got to being the world's mythical melting pot, he said in his essay.

"Both my mother and father embraced the ideal of racial harmony that Hawaii represented, and although their marriage proved short-lived, it was that ideal that my family continued to nurture in me throughout my early childhood," he wrote.

After his parents divorced, his father returned to Kenya. His mother remarried an Indonesian and he moved with her to Jakarta. There he witnessed first-hand the gulf between rich and poor and the corruption that affects many Asian nations, he said.

"By the time I moved back to Hawaii, and started school at Punahou, I had come to recognize that Hawaii was not immune to issues of race and class, issues that manifested themselves in the poverty among so many native Hawaiian families, and the glaring differences between the facilities we at Punahou enjoyed and the crumbling public schools that so many of our peers were forced to endure," he wrote.

"I believe that the carefree childhood I experienced in Hawaii, and the wonderful education I received at Punahou, should not be left to the luck of the draw, but should rather be every child's birthright," he said. "I believe that only in a country in which we can appreciate differences of race and religion and ethnicity, while still insisting on our common humanity, will my own soul feel rested."

Often on cold, windy January mornings in Chicago, Obama says he lets his mind wander back to Sandy Beach, Manoa Falls or Punahou School.

"It helps me, somehow, knowing that such wonderful places exist and, that at some level, I'll always be able to return to them." he said.

Obama, his wife Michelle and their two young daughters, Malia, 6, and Sasha, 3, return every Christmas to Hawaii, where his grandmother and sister still live.

This year will be no different, even if he wins the Senate seat.

"Absolutely," he said Friday. "I really will need a vacation. I look forward to getting up in the morning, driving to Sandy Beach and doing some bodysurfing and then getting a shave ice and plate lunch."

Barack Obama campaign


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