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Archive for January, 2008

It was raining hard on a cold grey day when I drove up to a small home in a neighborhood in Richmond, CA. The homes were all neatly kept up on a modest street that was quiet when I arrived. However, I knew it was located less than a mile away from “The Iron Triangle”. One of the most violent neighborhoods in the East Bay that experienced a great deal of shootings, domestic violence and crimes. Today I was meeting with Miriam Wong, Executive Director of the Latina Center.

When I first heard Miriam’s name…Miriam Wong, I was little confused. I thought, a Chinese woman running a Latina Center? I needed to know more about her story and how she came to be here. Miriam cheerfully opened the door and invited me into this home that had been converted into a center for all Latinas who needed support and help. The rooms were neat and brightly painted and there were a number of women in a meeting. She explained that many of the women that day were attending a workshop on diabetes and the affects on a family. There were some children playing with toys in the corner, the staff worker fielding phone calls and a lot of energy displayed throughout the center.

Miriam told me her story. She was born in Lima, Peru and came to the U.S. when she was 29 yrs old. Her father was Chinese and her mother Peruvian. Her parents divorced when she was young and her mother and grandmother brought her up. She grew up in a neighborhood where there were a lot Chinese and Japanese families who settled in Peru. The school she went to was diverse and she had Peruvian, Chinese and Japanese friends.

I asked her if her mother voted in Peru and she said yes, occasionally. However, she said the goverment and politics in Peru are radically different than the U.S. In Peru, the goverment was known to be corrupt for many decades. The people understood that voting oftentimes was meaningless because the outcomes were already predicted and guaranteed. It didn’t matter how the vote was tallied. People didn’t have faith in the system and endured a lot of regime changes that made them become disaffected with the government. She said that the feelings of powerlessness, and distrust of the government affects many immigrants that come to the U.S. When they emigrate, even t hough they become citizens and are eligible to vote, they fail to register and cast their votes. They bring distrust, alientation and a sense of apathy from their homelands.

I asked her what it would take to motivate these women to vote. First off, she said that many of the women who came to her center were from homes where they endured domestic violence from their husbands. They needed to take care of their families basic needs like food, shelter, jobs and healthcare before they could think about voting. She shared with me a very telling story…

One day, a woman came to her center. She was accompanied by her 90 year old mother. The woman was so overwhelmed by all her difficulties: lack of food, abusive husband, many young children to care for, lack of money…the list goes on. She was so depressed that she wanted to commit suicide to escape all the oppression and suffering she was going through. She couldn’t see a way out of her life and was giving up.

Miriam spent the next few hours comforting, hugging, listening and supporting this woman. She explained to her that there was support, caring and a community that would listen, protect and provide her with help. She wanted the woman to know that she was an important human being and that there were people to help provide her with solutions. She had no food, money nor hope for the future. Miriam had just collected some food donations that people had brought and told the woman to take all of it home to her family. She encouraged her to come back to seek support and talk about ways that she could plan for her future and reach out for help. At the end of the day, the woman felt comforted, welcomed and most of all… cared for. She promised to come back and Miriam would help her find her footing and plan for a way out.

At the end of the day when the woman and her mother were about to leave, something truly wonderful happened. The woman’s 90 year old mother shared her story with Miriam. She said that she had lived with an abusive husband for 60 years. She endured the punishment, humiliation and emotional abuse for all her life. When her husband died, she finally felt relieved and glad that the oppression had been lifted. However, when she saw that her daughter married, had a family and then lived in the same abusive cycle of domestic violence as she endured, she felt helpless. It was bad enough that she had to endure it. Now her own daughter was going through the same agony, torture and suffering she had undergone. She couldn’t stand it and brought her to Miriam.

As she was getting ready to leave with her daughter who was now feeling hopeful and more positive about living, the mother did something extraordinary. She dug around her pockets looking for something. She dug deeply and felt around the corners of her pockets. She finally fished out a small crumpled piece of paper. She said:

“I do not have any money, but this dollar is all that I have. Money cannot buy what you have given to us today. Please take it and thank you for all that you have done for us.”

At this moment in Miriam’s story, we were both tearing up and feeling so grateful that people can reach out and help one another. That we are all human beings and we all need help. It is not about money and services….it is about the human spirit to give and help another person out. To believe in someone else, no matter what the circumstances and to appreciate life at its most basic level.

Miriam said it was the most beautiful thing that happened. She is an amazing woman and a heroine to many people. The Latina Center www.latinacenter.org is her own non-profit. She started it with her own money without any Federal or State grants and funds it through local city grants, services and donations. She doesn’t have enough to pay herself nor her staff, the center was freezing cold because they can’t afford a lot of the utilities and she receives some in-kind services for immigration and medical support.

As a result of meeting this incredible woman who truly is a guardian angel and has saved countless lives and supported so many women, I am committed to personally helping her receive funding so she can continue to provide the much needed services the community needs.

Miriam is a big believer in voting and seeking higher leadership roles for minority women. She provides educational outreach and sponsors year long classes in leadership participation and teaching the women about civic duty and responsibility. I now am going to donate all my children’s clothes, toys and encourage my friends to do the same to the Latina Center. My children will go next week to bring their toys and clothes to share with the children there so we can perpetuate the spirit of giving and friendship. If you’re interested in joining us, please contact me or Miriam at the Latina Center.

I salute Miriam Wong as one of the unknown heroines who has saved countless lives and families as a result of her dedication and work.

Take care….Mable

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Why did I start this blog?  I have spent 20+ years  in the business world operating in environments where  decision makers were predominantly males.  There never seemed to be enough females in executive and decision making positions…much less minority females and I felt like it’s time to take action to encourage more inclusion. One way to change the power and infrastructure is if women take on leadership positions both within the private sector as well as in the government.  During the past few decades with the initial support of programs like Affirmative Action, we’ve gained the experience and credibility to assume higher leadership positions.  However, It’s critical that we continually push and assume executive & leadership positions in the private and government environment.  It’s the only way to have a strong voice,  definitive impact and create lasting change. 

However, as I looked around I noticed that there still aren’t enough women of ethnic and minority backgrounds in leadership positions to make huge changes.  As I began to research articles, I found out in the area of voting,  minority women voted in far lower percentages than majority females. In the 2004 elections 125 million people voted with women out voting the men. Overall, of the eligible people who could vote, 65% women voted compared to 62% of the men. There were approximately 26 million minority women who were eligible to vote.  However, while 70% of majority white women voted, 60% African American women and only 40% of Latinas and Asian women voted.  

Let’s think back to how close the presidential elections of 2000 were and the razor thin victories in different elections like a state governorship determined by less than several hundred votes. We  can see how this huge group of minority women voters could have major impact on the consequences on our country’s direction. When you think about how minority women represent the heads of households for many families, affect every aspect of their children’s education, health, housing and vote in larger numbers than men, it really makes you respect their significance. I began to question why minority women voted in far less percentages than their non-minority counterparts. If you look at minority women in leadership roles, in many industries the percentages are significantly lower.

I reflected upon my own parents who came from China. My father was a U.S. Naval officer and served our country for 24 years. Yet I never recalled that he nor my mother ever voted nor encouraged me to vote.  I realized that my own awareness and political conciousness didn’t develop until I attended the University of California in Berkeley and learned about the importance of voting and becoming involved in politics.

As I started to research the reasons why minority women voted in lower percentages, I discovered it’s a very complex problem affected by a huge number of factors. Different racial and ethnic groups face multiple hurdles and issues depending upon factors such as language, education, citizenship, income, etc.  Issues such as: being born in an immigrant family heavily influenced by the homeland cultural values, having parents who came from autocratic, communist or corrupt countries where there were no democratic opportunities to participate and vote, fear and mistrust of the government, language barriers, cultural emphasis on women to not speak up nor “rock the boat” for fear of reprisals, lack of civic duty and responsibility for voting, pressures to obtain a good education and jobs, deterrence from the males to participate in democracy and voting, etc.

As you research the different cultures and races, the issues vary tremendously and are very profound. I feel that the best way to try and understand some of these issues is to conduct interviews and to capture the personal stories of  women who represent these cultures, generations, and families.  Statistics alone cannot reveal the depth of the conflicting issues and pressures that these women face.

As a result, the research project has evolved from a book to a documentary we are producing called:

Engage Her! Getting minority women to vote

The documentary will be released later this Spring to impact the voting cycle of our 2008 elections.

In addition, we are launching this blog to incorporate the use of New Media, social networks and technologies to complement our efforts in sharing our findings. With the changes in generations and people’s adoption of new media to communicate, it’s critical to share and publish our stories in the most popular and prevalent media.  I am inviting a number of different minority women and representatives of organizations to post about relevant topics that influence our decisions about voting and leadership. As we interview women of different ethnic and racial groups, we’ll be posting about their stories, perspectives and including videos of their contributions.   I am fortunate to be co-producing this documentary with a Latina filmmaker, Maria Victoria Ponce .  She is equally excited about capturing the personal stories of minority women regarding their attitudes towards voting & participation. We’ll be asking their opinions of how we can engage themselves, their mothers, daughters and friends into the political and leadership process so can increase our overall representation in the system.

In addition, since we are faced with a unique opportunity for women to vote for the first time in history for either a woman or an African American candidate in one party for President, it will be interesting to see if more women feel compelled to vote based on these unique candidates qualifications. Our interviews will be conducted with women of all ages, races, generations, different political affiliations, etc. to get a broad perspective of the issues we all face.

We’ll also be interviewing people and organizations who have used innovative technology and marketing solutions to engage women both online & offline to involve them in social advocacy. With the New Media and social networks that have rapidly evolved, there is a whole new way of engaging the generation raised with mobile and networked technologies. We plan to invite women to interview their mothers, friends and communities about their opinions and post their videos online to share. We want to explore these stories and to hear their personal voices.  We invite you to join us and hope you will  share your stories so we can all learn from them.

Thank you for reading and we look forward to your comments.   Mable

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