An advocate for global education, an educator herself, and now a best-selling author, U.S. President Barack Obama's half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng joined Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai in New York on Tuesday evening for a wide-ranging discussion that covered her relationship with her family, her passion for education and her newly published children's book Ladder to the Moon.
Soetoro-Ng recalled the playful relationship she had with Obama. "I would hang on him and his friends; I would stand in front of the TV during critical moments of a basketball game."
As the Indonesian-born Soetoro-Ng explained, travel to various locations around the world allowed her to become "a product of her surroundings." This translated into the way she approached teaching. “I teach the fact that the truth requires we look from multiple perspectives." Seeing things from different vantage points was a quality her mother, the late Ann Dunham, instilled in her.
At the same time, Soetoro-Ng acknowledged that she and her half-brother had very different experiences growing up. "The mom that my brother had... is sort of different from the mom that I had," she said, noting that Dunham was 18 when Obama was born. Soetoro-Ng was born nine years later; by the time she was cognizant of her mother as a human being, she added, Dunham had become much more of a "pragmatic," "professional" woman.
Soetoro-Ng's book, Ladder to the Moon, is a way of paying homage to Dunham, and highlights her mother's strongest qualities. “She woke up at 3:00 to gaze at the moon; she would wake me up all the time.”
Video: Maya Soetoro-Ng on family ties and her mother's legacy (2 min., 49 sec.)