Obama’s Sister Soetoro-Ng Honors Memory of Mother in New Book
Maya Soetoro-Ng, who may be best known as Barack Obama’s younger sister, told a packed audience at Teachers College stories to honor her mother’s memory. She read from her recently published children’s book “Ladder to the Moon,” which is about her daughter meeting the moon, a personification of her deceased mother.
Soetoro-Ng’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, used to pull her out of bed to stare at the moon at night when they were living in Indonesia. The moon connects people all across the globe, she said, and is the same no matter where you are looking at it.
Soetoro-Ng remembers these experiences fondly, and wishes her daughter, Suhaila, could have met her grandmother before she passed away. The book is an effort to keep her mother alive and pass those stories on to her daughter.
Susan Fuhrman, the president of Teachers College, introduced Soetoro-Ng by saying the book left an indelible impression on her, and she was moved by the hopeful story of a grandmother and granddaughter sitting together on the moon and learning about the troubles in the world. The granddaughter leaves “more aware, but no less hopeful,” she said.
Soetoro-Ng then read parts of her book aloud, saying that she was going to “talk story,” a Hawaiian expression meaning to have an informal conversation and get to know one another through sharing experiences. Interspersed within the reading of her book were stories of her mother’s life, a legacy she felt important to pass down to her daughter.
Dunham was a weaver, she said, and also an anthropologist and a champion of microfinance for women in cottage industries.
Soetoro-Ng, an educator herself, received her doctorate from the University of Miami in comparative international education. After reading from “Ladder to the Moon,” she discussed some of its themes, among them the interconnectedness we all share as global citizens. “We are entwined, and we can’t think exclusively of ourselves,” she said.
After Soetoro-Ng’s reading, eighth-grade students at The Clinton School for Writers and Artists in New Jersey performed a moving sketch where they paid tribute to parents and mentors who they wish could be around to see their accomplishments.
Soetoro-Ng blotted her eyes with a tissue and thanked the students for their performance.
The teacher, Emily Campbell, said that her students put the performance together in a week’s time. They read the book together as a class, and all of the writing that made it into the performance was borne out of that first reading. The students were honored to write about someone in their life who had shaped them in a positive way, she said.
Leah Metcalf, an intern at Education Update, contributed reporting for this story. She is a freshman at Barnard College.