Growing up in Indonesia, Maya Soetoro-Ng often felt too American. Although she adored her native land’s traditional gamelan music and shadow puppets, spiced cuisine and Hindu epics, her manner was too loud, too irreverent–hallmarks, she said, of being raised by a strong American mother.
But when she entered the Jakarta International School at age 12, the only student of Indonesian ancestry, she felt too Indonesian. She was more reserved than the confident, boisterous Americans she met there and later in Hawaii, she said.
“Wherever I was, I felt somewhat inadequate in terms of the purest expression of culture,” said Soetoro-Ng, a Hawaii-based writer, educator and half sister of President Obama. “I wished I completely belonged somewhere.”
But Soetoro-Ng’s early struggles over identity, a “mild but persistent discomfort” amid an otherwise happy and carefree childhood, gradually eased over time. Today, she embraces all aspects of herself–and urged people to do the same in an interview and program on multiracial identities Saturday evening at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.