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Archive for February, 2008

When Rosario Marin was young, she remembers living in Mexico City in a large family with many brothers and sisters. Her parents emigrated to the Los Angeles area when she was a young girl to provide her with an excellent education. She remembers an important incident that changed her life dramatically. When she first took the standard IQ test and the results were shared with her parents, they were shocked. Rosario had scored only 27 on the test. While they knew that she was a very bright girl, her lack of English proficiency caused her to perform poorly on the English only tests. Her parents immediately immersed Rosario into a school where she learned to speak only in English. Even in their own home, no Spanish was spoken….only English. They wanted to ensure that she and her siblings did well in school as education was the key to improving their economic opportunities.

Rosario proved to be a very good student and accomplished many great things in the years to come. However, before she got involved with politics, Rosario had to endure and persevere through many difficult times. When she gave birth to her son, Eric she found out that he was born with Down Syndrome. She had to give up a promising career in banking to stay home and take care of her son. During this period, Rosario realized that her child was her priority and that he depended totally upon her. She created a support group for parents of children with disabilities to lobby for support and services. She traveled to Sacramento to testify in front of Governor Pete Wilson on behalf of the families she represented. He later appointed her as Chief of Legislative Affairs of Disability Services for the State of California. An opening for the Huntington Park City Council became vacant and she successfully ran and won a seat. Later she was voted in and served as the Mayor of Huntington Park.

Ultimately in 2001, she was appointed by President Bush to become the 41st Treasurer of the United States. Ms. Marin is the first Mexican born U.S. Treasurer to hold this office. She is also the highest Latina to serve in President George W. Bush’s Administration. After her appointment as U. S. Treasurer, Rosario was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to become the Secretary of the External Affairs and the State and Consumer Services Agency for the State of California . She is currently responsible for running and governing 17 departments including the California State Employees Union with 210,000 employees.

She remembers that her entrance into politics was because of the pressing family issues that she had to deal with as a mother of a child with special disabilities. She personally knows of the challenges of balancing the work and family issues that all parents face. As a mother and as head of Consumer Advocacy and Equal Rights agencies, she is familiar with all the priorities facing families today including: Equal pay, Affordable childcare, Healthcare insurance coverage and Education for all children & families. She is in the unique position of being able to understand how important these issues are as well as advocate and make changes on behalf of all her constituents.

Her message to all the women voters out there is simple: Your vote counts! Our system works on a democratic process and we need to have everyone engaged in the voting process. Mothers with children may not understand how powerful their voices and votes are…but they are very important to the legislators. Get involved, get active, vote!

We are very grateful to have such a powerful champion working on our behalf in the California government such as Rosario Marin. We are sure to benefit from the results of her advocacy in the years to come. Thank you Rosario for representing all of us and our families.

Mable

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If you visited the city of Stockton in the central valley of California right after World War II, you would have been  surrounded by thousands of acres of agricultural fields.  It was located in a hot dry region filled with immigrant families who came to the United States to seek a better life for their family & children.   Lillian Galedos remembers growing up in a semi-rural community where her friends were Asian, Latino, African American and a few White kids in her school and church.  Her parents emigrated from the Philippines before Lillian was born.  At home, although her parents spoke  a Filippino dialect they primarily spoke to their family in English.  Her parents constantly reminded them that they were Americans and should speak only English.

Her father was a  farmworker who worked in the fields to support his family. She remembers him as a quiet authoritarian figure who didn’t speak very much to his children. Frankly, he was exhausted from working in the fields every day.  She now thinks it’s amazing how their family got by with what little money they had. There weren’t a lot of toys and they had a garden where they raised most of the food they would eat. They rarely went out for dinner since she came from a large family. Occasionally, if they did go out it was always to the same Chinese restaurant in Stockton, Gan Chai which was a treat for the family.

Most of the families in her area didn’t have much money, but her parents worked hard and saved up. They eventually bought a car and even a television.  Owning a  TV was a luxury and they were one of the few families that had one. They soon became the central place where other kids and families would hang out and watch TV together.  Lillian also remembered that they lived in a very segregated town. She recalls that there was an “unofficial” dividing line in town. The minorities stayed south of Main Street in Stockton. The Whites stayed north of Main Street.  In fact, it wasn’t until Lillian went to her local junior college that she ventured north of Main street for the first time in her life to get to school.

Her parents stressed to the children that they needed to get a good education in order to have a better quality of life. Her father did not want them to become farmworkers and live such a difficult life. Her sister eventually became a teacher and her brother a postal worker. Lillian thought she too would go to community college and eventually San Jose State University to become a teacher. 

However, Lillian had extraordinary good luck and timing.  In 1968 she was recruited to go to the University of California at Davis through the Educational Opportunity Program.  It was the time in our society when EOP programs were recruiting minorities and giving them access to colleges and universities that they would never have dreamed of attending. Lillian was given a full scholarship, support and housing. She attended school when it was the beginning of Ethnic Studies, the Vietnam War and she took Filipino Studies courses.  She developed a strong political conciousness and desire to work and advocate on behalf of her community.

Lillian today is the Executive Director of Filipinos For Affirmative Action www.filipinos4action.org   She has been involved with political and social advocacy on behalf of the 1+ million filipinos that live in California. She said that when it came to voting, both her parents voted for the national elections. However, many Filipinos who emigrated to the U.S. don’t necessarily register to vote.  During the 1970-1980’s, people lived under martial law in the Philippines.  In 1986 there was a bloodless revolution that ended the ruling of martial law.  However, many of the Filipinos who came over during that period remember what it was like to live under a corrupt government. They became very disenfranchised and apathetic towards voting. Therefore there is a much lower participation rate of Filipinos to register and vote at the polls.

During the 1990-2000’s,  Lillian noticed  something new happening. There was a lot more civic engagement that has been led by women to become active and involved. There are more Filipinos getting elected to local school boards and city councils and advocating for their consituents.  Currently there are two big issues for the Filipino community:  granting World War II Filipino veterans their full benefits which they were stripped of years ago and Immigration reform.  The Filipino community has been hard hit by family reunification issues, government raids on immigrants and division within the community about guest workers.

Her agency is very active in campaigns to register Filipinos and getting them to vote. She sees the younger generation getting involved, manning the phone banks and engaging the unlikely and first time voters.  They are reaching out and doing a lot of alliance building with organizations to leverage resources and get more citizens  into the voting process.

She also shared some new information that has recently occurred. Traditionally, the African American community has been the leader in terms of fighting for civil liberties. However, in the State of California, Latinos have become the largest and fastest growing population followed by he Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and then by the African Americans. She  said, “the Latinos and Asians now have to step up to the plate and set the model for what the political policy and advocacy issues are for the minorities in California and truly help take the lead to improve upon our civil liberties”.  We also know that California is a bellweather state. What happens in California tends to predict the trends that will occur in states across the nation. So the political activism of the AAPIs in California will ultimately be mirrored in the other states where there are strong populations of Latinos, AAPIs and African Americans.

Thank you Lillian for the great work you and your organization are doing to help empower our voters and for sharing your story with us.

 Mable

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As a young girl attending elementary school in El Cerrito, California Mina Wilson had to learn some hard lessons growing up. When she started, her family was one of the few African American families attending her primarily White elementary school. Everyday Mina had to endure taunts and verbal abuse from a group of girls about anything and everything about her that was different from them. The color of her skin, the size of her lips, the look and feel of her hair; anything these girls wanted to say to make Mina feel badly. Mina held it all in and didn’t share any of it with her family. Going to school everyday and being bullied and picked on was the torture she endured silently.

One day the girls crossed the line and said something really mean that got Mina furious. She couldn’t take it anymore and before she knew it, she found herself on top of the girls in a big fight. She was outnumbered but it didn’t matter. She was sent to the principal’s office, suspended and sent home. Needless to say, her parents were shocked. Mina didn’t know what to expect from her parents. Her mother was very upset but her father listened to the whole story and then spoke quietly to her. He told her “Mina, I am not going to punish you, because they were wrong, but you cannot go through life fighting with your fists, which he held up…but with this…and he pointed to his brains.” He went on to explain to her that fighting physically was not going to win any battles. However, if she developed her mind and learned how to outwit her opponents…she would win.

Now Mina’s father was not only a wise man, he was a very committed civil rights advocate and an important person in our history of the United States. Charles E. Wilson grew up as a young man in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was the first person in his family to go to college. At that time, there were no colleges for African Americans in the Tidewater area of Virginia. So the African American leaders in the community got together and approached Virginia Union University in Richmond VA about starting a satellite campus of their University in Norfolk for African American students to attend. They were successful, and the school was known as The Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union University. It has evolved over the years into the institution now known as Norfolk State University. Both Mina’s parents and her Aunt were members of the first graduating class. After graduating and marrying Lucy, his high school sweetheart, Charles volunteered for Military service. He knew he wanted to further his education, but without the financial means available, the GI Bill was his ticket to an advanced degree. Once he was honorably discharged from the Army, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. He wanted to attend Columbia University in New York. However, in those days, Columbia only allowed one African American student to attend per year. Both he and his best friend wanted to attend, so they decided that he would go first, and his friend would follow the next year.

After Charles graduated from Columbia, there was very little demand for African American lawyers. He read in a copy of the NAACP periodical, The Crisis Magazine, that they were looking for leaders out west. He contacted Noah Griffin, who was the President of the San Francisco Branch of the NAACP, and after a conversation with him, determined that he would move himself and his family to California. Noah Griffin said that he was going on a 3 month sabbatical to Europe and that Charles could come out and live his house while he found himself a job.

While working to pass the California Bar exam, he took a job as a janitor at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco. He brought out his wife and children and settled in. Once he passed the Bar exam, he went into private practice. In the late 1950’s he applied for a job with the State of California. Once he was hired, he was asked by Governor Edmund Pat Brown to draft the California Fair Employment Practices legislation. Charles went to work and while drafting the law, was smart enough to include a position in the law for Legal Counsel to oversee this landmark piece of legislation. This was the first piece of fair employment legislation to be enacted and went on to become the basis for the Affirmative Action policies later adopted by the Federal government.

Charles became the Acting Director overseeing the implementation and enforcement of the Fair Employment Practices. In later years he was appointed as a Judge and retired soon after his youngest child graduated from college.

Mina’s father’ work, wisdom and guidance heavily influenced her. She was too young to comprehend the impact of her parent’s work. She didn’t know that many of the meetings that took place in her home, family church, and local community centers involved many of the prominent leaders supporting civil rights and legislation efforts to establish and protect the civil liberties for all people. Her father was an important spokesperson and leader of the NAACP, spokesperson and advocate for civil rights in the State of California, many counties around the state, and the City of El Cerrito, CA.

When Mina’s father passed away, people came to pay their respects and talk about the important contributions that her father had made. It really wasn’t until that moment that Mina began to understand the impact her father’s life had made and how he was truly a hero in many people’s lives. She only knew him as her “Daddy” who loved to take them fishing, play with them and always made time to listen and guide them.

Mina herself is now a single mother with two children: Malia Ophelia who is 6 and Malcolm Charles who is 4. Mina still experiences overt and covert racism and seeks to manage the effect they have on her children’s lives. Recently when she was talking to her children about the importance of Black History Month, Malia pronounced to her: “Mama, you don’t have to tell me who Rosa Parks is, I learned about her in school. She’s the Black woman who stole the White man’s seat on the bus”.

Mina sat there stunned and outraged. Please don’t let this be what they taught her at school. What were these people teaching her daughter at school? She responded to Malia gently and said “Baby, that’s not exactly the way it happened”. She dug through the family’s video arsenal to pull out movies that depicted accurate images of the movement. She shared those with Malia to correct her and to ensure she understood what truly happened. Mina was outraged and spoke to the school teacher. As a result, she spent four mornings presenting lessons on Black History to Malia’s class. Of course, Mina did not leave out one very important man whose contributions changed the course of our country and many lives……Charles E. Wilson. in her hunt to locate images, she ran across a tape of her father receiving the Contra Costa Board of Supervisor’s Martin Luther King, Jr. award from 1996. It was the ultimate gift and the first time her children had ever heard their grandfather speak.

“The most important lessons I want to leave with my children are the accurate knowledge of who they are, faith in God and practical life skills that will empower them to accomplish, develop their gifts and actualize their dreams.”

Mina shared with us: “I always vote, my parents did not just tell me, they showed me how important it was to vote. I bought my first bike with money I was paid for passing out flyers for a city council campaign. Voting is something many take for granted. As I reflected back upon my parents’ story to get ready for this interview, I realized that when my mother turned 18, she did not have the right to vote.” So many people sacrificed their lives to secure that right for us, how can we NOT exercise it?

It is vitally important for all of us whose ancestors toiled and suffered building the foundation upon which this nation stands and whose parents fought so hard for the right to vote, to claim our right and cast our vote. It is the only way our voices and opinions will be heard and counted. If you are not willing to stand up and speak up for what you believe in, then don’t complain when you receive the crumbs from the banquet table.

I now can thank Charles Wilson, for I know he dramatically impacted my life. Without Affirmative Action, I would never have had the opportunity to become the person that I am today. Whenever there are Black History Month celebrations I feel I now have a personal connection to honor the memory and life work of Charles Wilson and the people who have fought so hard to establish and defend our civil liberties. Thank you Mina for sharing your father’s wisdom and legacy with all of us.

Mable

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