While in California, as a student Barack Obama, who would one day become President of the United States, would hand-write letters to his then-girlfriend, Alexandra McNear, this being years before he met his eventual wife, Michelle. In these letters, the young Obama discussed struggles with his identity, the future and everyday life. These letters were eventually obtained by Emory University’s Rose Library in 2014, but have recently been published. You can use these excerpts to take a trip through time and have some insight into the young Obama.
Coming into his American identity
Although Obama grew up in Indonesia, upon returning there as a graduate, he realized that he no longer fit in there, even writing, “I can’t speak the language well anymore,” according to the BBC.
“I’m treated with a mixture of puzzlement, deference and scorn because I’m American…I see old dim roads, rickety homes winding back towards the fields, old routes of mine, routes I no longer have access to.”
Learning to Make Other Cultures Part of His Own
“I must admit large dollops of envy,” he wrote, when noticing many of his college friends would eventually take on jobs at their family’s businesses.
“Caught without a class, a structure, or a tradition to support me, in a sense the choice to take a different path is made for me.”
As he would later explain, he eventually decided to fight off feelings of loneliness that plagued him by taking up “all the traditions, classes, make them mine, me theirs.”
Struggling to make a living
Like many people today, the younger Obama endured a job he did not like, only to find it did not completely eradicate his financial troubles.
As he once wrote, “Salaries in the community [organizations] are too low to survive on right now, so I hope to work in some more conventional capacity for a year, allowing me to store up enough nuts to pursue those interests next.”
That said, even as a young graduate, we can still get the feeling that Obama had plans for a bigger and brighter future. As he once finished a letter, “My ideas aren’t as [crystallized] as they were while in school, but they have an immediacy and weight that may be more useful if and when I’m less observer and more participant.”