It’s not our intent to contribute to any of the “birther” nonsense that has, unfortunately, plagued President Barack Obama since before he was elected to be leader of the free world. Just had to clear that up.
What we want to do is take a closer look at President Obama’s globetrotting early years, some of which were spent at Indonesian State Elementary School Menteng 1. President Obama was born in Hawaii to his American mother and Kenyan father. When his parents’ marriage ended, his mother was remarried to an Indonesian man who moved the family to Jakarta in 1967 when our now-president was six years old.
The family settled in a district called Menteng-Dalam, and the first elementary school young Barack attended there was the Santo Fransiskus Asisi Roman Catholic school, which was brand new at the time. This first school was not considered well-to-do at all, and the New York Times reports that President Obama “attended school with children who could not afford to buy shoes.”
The family moved to a different area shortly thereafter, and young Mr. Obama entered the extremely elite Menteng 1. The school, founded in 1934 as a Dutch school, once catered only to Dutch children and a few elite Indonesian children. In 1962, the Dutch handed the school over to the Indonesian government as a state educational institution. At the time, the predominantly Muslim public school was considered one of the best in Jakarta.
At the Catholic school, young Barack was incorrectly listed on input paperwork as Muslim, because his new stepfather was Muslim, though not a devout, practicing one. When the birther groups began circulating their conspiracy theories, they cited this as “evidence” of the future president’s alleged ties to Islam and incorrectly identified Menteng 1 as a radical Muslim madrassa, or boarding school, in shocking displays of blatant Islamophobia and fearmongering.
Menteng 1 was and remains, by all accounts, an inclusive and welcoming elite elementary school. As the Washington Post states:
“The Indonesian government recognizes several religions, and public schools make time for students to practice their faith during school hours. Religious studies are compulsory.
So while Christian students were belting out hymns and reading Bible verses in a classroom on a recent midday break, Muslim students were praying in a mosque.
‘This is a public school that is open for everyone regardless of his religion and ethnicity. We have a mosque, a Bible class and a partnership with the local Hindu temple,’ said vice principal Akhmad Solikhin.”
The school has always prioritized a harmonious relationship between children of different religious faiths, and little “Barry,” as he was called then, could have no way of knowing how violently his little Indonesian elementary school would be thrust into the international spotlight because he had gone there. Thankfully, the school recovered from the ugly accusations.
Barry left Indonesia in 1971 to return to Hawaii and live with his grandparents, but Indonesian children at Menteng 1 still think of him as the boy from their neighborhood who became president of the United States, gathering to cheer him on as he won his re-election to a second term. There’s even a bronze statue of little Barry on the school grounds, commemorating one of the many stops along the way that shaped this man who would be president.