Addressing a largely Latino audience in East Los Angeles yesterday, Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng shared stories about her childhood with her older brother, Barack Obama, and the effect he has had on her life. Held in El Sereno’s Hecho en Mexico restaurant, the event drew more than a hundred enthusiastic community activists, local elected officials, and regular citizens despite the triple-digit heat outside.
Clearly designed to draw support to her brother’s presidential candidacy from two key voting blocs—women and Latinos— the event was organized by State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, State Senator Martha Escutia (ret.), State Board of Equalization Chair Judy Chu, Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick, Los Angeles City Councilmember Ed Reyes, and Los Angeles Unified School District Vice President Yolie Flores-Aguilar.
“There’s no nepotism in Barack’s campaign,” remarked the multi-lingual Soetoro-Ng, who peppered her mostly English talk with Spanish. “I don’t get paid by the campaign, but I’m delighted to come here to help you get to know Barack.”
Soetoro-Ng, who is nine years her brother’s junior, spoke beamingly of her big brother, who served as a surrogate father, guiding her as she made major life decisions about boyfriends, college, and careers. “I made a few bad choices about boyfriends. Barack would warn me and he was always right,” she laughed.
She also talked about their mother and their upbringing, which was occasionally short on money but never short on love. Soetoro-Ng will return to her teaching job at Hawaii’s La Pietra girls school in August and will make time to campaign in the fall.
Clearly in response to the characterization of Obama as an elitist, she remarked that the Obama family compound in Hawaii is a rented 600-square-foot apartment in Honolulu, where Obama lived as a child and where their grandmother has lived for the past 40 years. “It’s our version of Kennebunkport,” she said, contrasting the Bush Estate to the apartment Obama once called home.
Like the current-day Crawford Ranch, George “Poppy” Bush’s Kennebunkport Estate was known as the summer White House and served to host lavish affairs for foreign heads of state and other dignitaries and fat cats. Judging from Soetoro-Ng’s description of their humble abode, if Obama is elected president, social gatherings at the “Obama Compound” in Honolulu would have to be a little different. Perhaps the apartment building’s landlord would allow an occasional pool party or afternoon tea in the community room (provided the other tenants don’t mind).
Graciously taking questions afterwards, Maya spent a considerable part of the afternoon chatting with the audience she had clearly won over.
Evelina Alarcon (pictured below with Soetoro-Ng), a notable Obama supporter and the sister of long-time Los Angeles politician Richard Alarcon, presented a poster to Obama’s sister commemorating the life of Cesar Chavez. Alarcon recounted the accomplishments of the late Chicano leader and argued persuasively for honoring his accomplishments with a national holiday. Reminding those in attendance that Barack Obama supports the call to make Cesar Chavez’s birthday a national holiday. Alarcon trusts that if Obama is elected president the holiday will become a reality.
Obama has been quoted recently to say:“As farmworkers and laborers across America continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair wages, we find strength in what Cesar Chavez accomplished so many years ago and we should honor him for what he’s taught us about making America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation. That’s why I support the call to make Cesar Chavez’s birthday a national holiday. It’s time to recognize the contributions of this American icon to the ongoing efforts to perfect our union.”
Many present remarked on the sense of oneness Maya invoked. Not unlike her brother, Maya Soetoro-Ng is a gifted orator who establishes an easy rapport with her audience. The heat didn’t dampen the enthusiasm or the hope that continues to be the Obama calling card. All in the audience chanted “si se puede, yes we can” as the afternoon event came to a close.
Sharon Kyle & Dick Price–
Dick and Sharon publish and edit the LA Progressive
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