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President Obama’s half-sister to speak at the University

By Sydney Berger, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 20, 2012

In January, President Barack Obama visited the University, emphasizing the importance of college affordability and accessibility during his address at Al Glick Field House. This Thursday, his half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng will be addressing campus as part of the University’s celebration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

The University’s Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies program will be hosting Soetoro-Ng for a lecture titled “Education for Peace and Global Awareness.” The lecture will be delivered at the Michigan Union and will come in preparation for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, which will be celebrated in May. Soetoro-Ng is an assistant professor of education at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and a published author.

“We are extremely honored to have her,” said Associate Prof. Scott Kurashige, director of the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies program. “She is a very distinguished scholar.”

The month of May was officially designated Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in 1992, and it was chosen as the celebratory month because Japanese immigrants first arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843, according to a website dedicated to the month.

Kurashige said there is a need for greater awareness of Asian/Pacific Islander American studies on campus to provide a new perspective on issues like gender, sexuality, history and immigration.

“It’s an important time where people learn about the significance of Asian American and Pacific Islander history and some of the important contemporary issues facing Asian American/Pacific Islander communities on campus and off campus,” Kurashige said.

Soetoro-Ng has made a large impact in promoting intercultural awareness through her advocacy work, in which she connects her domestic understanding of diversity with global awareness.

“She is well known for her political activism and for her writings on education,” Kurashige said. “Even though her own work hasn’t focused exclusively on Asian Americans, her own awareness of Pacific Islander issues, being in Hawaii, and her own understanding of global and domestic diversity makes her an ideal choice for our program,” he added.

LSA junior Gina Chen, community historian for the United Asian American Organization, said she hopes people listen to Soetoro-Ng with an open mind.

“I hope that they can break away from the general mindset that math and science are always the path to go and that they can move beyond thinking that standardized testing is going to raise America back to the forefront of the world, because I don’t think that will happen,” Chen said.

Chen added that she hopes people show Soetoro-Ng respect and attend for more than her relation to the president.

“I hope that they don’t come just because she’s Obama’s sister,” she said. “I hope that they actually do have an interest in what she’s saying about education.”

Chen noted that it is important that students realize it is not a campaign event, but rather a speech intended to highlight her activism.

“What we invited her to do is really a serious, important lecture on the issue of education,” Kurashige said. “She is not coming to campaign. She is not coming to try and draw attention to herself.”

— Daily News Editor Rayza Goldsmith contributed to this report.


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