During the 2008 presidential campaign, Michelle Obama commented, “You can’t really understand Barack until you understand Hawaiʻi.”
Two University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alums took up the challenge, placing her quote on the cover of their book The Dream Begins (Watermark Publishing) and tackling the answer on 152 pages inside.
“I kept hearing about ‘Barry Obama,’ and I wanted to know more,” says Stu Glauberman (MA in Asian studies ’78). A journalist and author who has traveled widely and reported from Asia, Glauberman enlisted veteran Honolulu Advertiser political columnist Jerry Burris (BA in journalism ’69) to help set the stage.
Although Obama didn’t always speak of Hawaiʻi specifically on the campaign, the values he espoused—consensus, getting along, respecting for other people—are Hawaiʻi’s values, Glauberman says. “The book explains where these influences came from,” adds Burris.
“Before he was a politician in a well-tailored suit, he was a lanky kid with a trimmed Afro who loved to bodysurf and dreamed of moving to the mainland to be an NBA star,” the authors write.
Plenty of writers explore the Obama biography, of course. But Glauberman and Burris focus on his formative years in the context of Hawaiʻi at the time Obama’s boyhood—from the history of Punahou School to the societal influence of interracial marriage in a multicultural environment to the political impact of Hawaiʻi’s recent statehood.
Both authors have called Hawaiʻi home since arriving—like Obama’s mother and father—as UH college students.
“There is a lot about Hawaiʻi that goes with you wherever you go, and if you go on to be president of the United States, it goes with you to the White House,” Glauberman says.