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Archive for May, 2008

On Masako Kitashima’s first day at school in Centerville, California in the 1920’s, her teacher Miss Diaz asked her what her name was. When she answered, Masako Kitashima, her teacher said “No, no…that’s too hard. We’ll call you Margaret from now on”. What Margaret didn’t realize was that it was a sign of things to come which would deeply affect her based on her Japanese ancestry. She didn’t know that her life’s journey had begun and would entail many twists and turns that led her to speak to us on this warm April day in 2008.

Margaret was raised with 2 older brothers and parents who only spoke Japanese at home. They lived in a community where they associated mostly with Japanese families with whom they felt most comfortable. After high school, Margaret wanted to attend Healds Business College in Berkeley, CA but was unable to attend because World War II descended upon them and the war with the Japanese would change their lives forever.

Initially, all the Japanese families in her community were placed under curfew. Then they were given notice that they had 3 weeks to sort through all their personal belongings and had to evacuate immediately. They could only take their possessions that could fit into two suitcases and everything else would be taken away from them. She remembered her mother telling her that she should only take her clothes. However, she was 19 years old and a huge fan of Dick Paul and Ruby Keeler. She had cut out and saved every article of information about them and pasted them into two scrapbooks. They were her most important treasures. Her mother said that they were going to a “wild country” and she needed to make room for some boots because it was going to be very cold where they were being sent. Margaret refused and packed her scrapbooks which were her most favorite treasures.

Her family was first sent to Tanforan Racetrack to occupy the stables in San Mateo, CA where they were assigned to a small horse stall and told to get burlap bags to fill and use as beds. Each of the families was given numbers and the numbers, not their names, only identified them. Rumors were rampant and no one really knew how long they would stay there and what would happen next to them. After four months living in the stables, they were told to load up on a train where they would be taken to an internment camp at Topaz, Utah. Along the way they were told to pull the curtains down in their cargo trains because they didn’t want any of the other passengers to know they were on board so that it wouldn’t cause a lot of problems. She said it was a very long and scary ride, with babies crying, sitting in the dark, and not knowing what was to become of them.

When they arrived in Topaz, Utah at camp, she ended up staying there four long years. There were armed guards everywhere constantly pointing guns and watching their every move. She remembered one very scary incident that stood out in her mind. There was one old man who only had one possession in his life, his dog. He didn’t pack and own anything else. Just his dog, which he loved more than anything else in the world. One day, the dog got away from him and ran towards the barbed wire fence towards the soldiers. The old man ran to get the dog back from the soldiers. The soldiers however shot and killed the old man under the pretense that he was trying to escape the camp. A horrible silence fell over the camp and produced the intimidation and fear that the soldiers wanted to create on the Japanese families. To teach them a lesson that they would be punished if they tried to escape.

Margaret also recalled another horrible incident that deeply impacted her life. Her husband, Joel Ouye another Japanese American had signed up to serve in the U.S. Army and was a member of the 442nd unit, which ultimately became one of the highest decorated WWII battalions. He was stationed in Mississippi and was suppose to ship off to Italy to fight in the war. On his last night before leaving, he and 2 other buddies decided to go into town for a last drink. When they were through and headed back to the base, they hailed a taxicab. As they got into the cab, a White guy came up to them and yelled at them to get out of the cab. He wanted it. They told him that they needed to report back to base so they could ship out the next day. Then suddenly, the man swung and broke his beer bottle and attacked Joel Ouye on the head. When Mr. Ouye woke up the next morning in the hospital, he heard the doctor say to him “I’m sorry Mr. Ouye, we tried everything we could to save your eye.” Joel Ouye woke up to find that they had removed his eye and eventually replaced it with a glass eye that he had to live with for the rest of his life.

While Margaret Ouye has endured many racial encounters, she has maintained a positive and participatory attitude towards being an American citizen. She consistently votes in all the elections. She said “I’m proud to live to be 87 and able to vote in an election where there is both a young Black man and a woman who are running to become the President of the United States.” She encourages everyone to vote and quietly remembers that her parents didn’t originally have the right to vote when she was a young girl.

We thank and salute Masako Kitashima…Margaret Ouye for sharing her story and her positive contributions. Mable

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When Aileen Hernandez attended Howard University as a young African American woman, she remembered enrolling in a Political Science class. There was a male teacher whom she recalled announcing on the first day “If you are planning to attend this class, this is going to be a very hard one. If you don’t want to work hard, perhaps you should take home economics”. Aileen would not move out of the room and the next day she came back and attended the class for the rest of the session.

It was indicative of the type of struggles Aileen faced throughout her life as an African American woman growing up in the 1920’s in Brooklyn, New York and attending college at Howard University in Washington, DC. Ever since she was 5 years old, she has had to push back and challenge things that weren’t right. Her life has been all about righting the wrongs in our society. She said “the possibilities were so narrow for women in those days”.

Aileen’s parents came from Jamaica in the 1920’s and settled in Brooklyn, New York. Back then, it almost felt like the countryside with cows in the fields. She remembers growing up with families of many different ethnicities: Norwegian, Italian, Jewish all attending the same schools. When she was deciding which college to go to, she was encouraged to attend Howard University in Washington, DC. It was a college that was predominantly attended and supported African American students. Her father went with her from New York to Washington, DC when she went away to school. She vividly recalls when she arrived in Washington, DC someone telling her father that “You have to get the Black Cab” in order to get taxied to the university. It was a rude introduction to a world where people lived in totally segregated communities. There were segregated theaters, restaurants and schools where the Black people could attend separate from the rest of society.

At Howard University, Aileen got a political awakening that would influence her development and interests in the years to come. She became very involved with the Civil Rights movement and NAACP. Later she immersed herself in worker rights, the women’s movement through the International Ladies Garment Union and many other women’s and political activism issues.

When we asked her why she thought minorities and women don’t participate in higher percentages for voting and active engagement, she listed all the reasons. She said that a lot of women don’t feel the issues on the ballots affect them directly, a lot of women don’t have the time to vote and get involved, they think it’s too much trouble to vote, that voting doesn’t benefit them and that many women’s husbands dictate to them how to vote. She further stated “many women think that they don’t matter and that their vote doesn’t count”.

In order to get more women to vote and get engaged, she said, “It’s important to see somebody that looks like you… a woman”. She said that seeing Shirley Chisholm, an African American senator running for President fighting for women’s issues was very motivating. Seeing Senator Patsy Mink from Hawaii was an important role model for women. Reflecting upon the gains made in the Congress and Senate with women legislators, while it’s been improving, it is far below what it should be when you consider that women make up 51% of the population and our elected officials are in the minority.

Aileen said that it is possible for all of us to change the world. Having Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama running for President is important. Her last comment was that “You have your life ahead of you….You can make the difference and help us create a new generation of leaders. You are one of many, not the only one”.

Aileen has been an inspired, passionate and committed activist that has dedicated her life to improving our society for everyone. It has been an honor to interview her and to welcome her to our National Advisory Council for Engage Her. We know that she continually inspires many new future leaders with her dedication and passion. Mable

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As Executive Director Voto Latino.org, Maria Teresa Peterson has learned a lot about how young Latinos are using New media technologies to communicate, share and network with one another. Her organization is one of the leading sites that targets young Latinos under age 30 to educate, encourage and help them register to vote. Started a few years ago as a non-profit that aired Public Service Announcements (PSA) over the air, it has developed into a big powerhouse organization.
She’s heard many stories about how Latinos and Latinas have turned to the Internet, text messaging and other media and mobile technologies to connect and engage with other young people who share the same issues.
While there seems to be a myth out there in the media that Latinos aren’t using technologies at the same rates as other groups, she’s seen statistics that show that Latinos are using text messaging at incredibly high rates, that Latino/Latina bloggers represent one of the highest populations and that they are turning to these new technologies to help them make decisions.
Voto Latino has also launched one of the first text-messaging voter registration campaigns in American history, where young Latinos could register to vote by sending a text message from their mobile phone. On Election Day 2006, those participating received Get-Out-The Vote text message reminders and it helped to increase Latino participation in the polls by 9%.
By listening to their members they’ve initiated creative and innovative ways to capture interest and drive more member sign ups and involvement. They’ve gone out and recruited Latino artists who help to promote voter registration and encourage voter turnout. A new program they’re piloting is to work with local DJs and celebrities to promote voting through programs that encourage the young Latino population to get involved. They are also employing Google ads, Facebook, and viral marketing on websites to reach out to their powerful constituents.
Maria Teresa shared that the young Latinos are what they term the “cultural ambassadors” in their households. That means in many households where parents may not be as familiar with English or the commercial products to purchase, they will turn to their children who will dictate what products and services to choose or that are deemed “cool”. So their children may state that they have to have high speed DSL or cable modem access so they can conduct research online to complete their homework at home. Parents would then ask which brand and where they can find the products. Their buying and consumer influence covers all categories of products including food, electronics, clothing, cars, services, etc. That’s why many savvy consumer brands are courting the Latino youth as a key influencer for making household buying decisions and recommendations.
In terms of voting, Maria Teresa also says that there are many missed opportunities to engage the Latino communities. She said that many candidates, consultants and organizations assume that the Latinos are consuming their media in Spanish only outlets. Citing a recent poll conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, over 79% of all American Latino eligible voters consumed electoral news in English. Additionally, over 50,000 young Latinos turn 18 every month and 93% of them are eligible to vote. So reaching out to this segment of the population requires targeted marketing and savvy outreach with specific messages.
She also said that some of the biggest issues Latinas are concerned about include Health i.e. Obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease, sex education for women and AIDS information, Education and Immigration issues.
She said the issues facing young Latinos are different from the ones that their parents dealt with when they first emigrated from their native countries. Our future will depend heavily upon how we reach out and engage this next generation of Latino voters who will heavily influence the future outcome of our nation. Thank you Maria Teresa for the incredibly important and creative work your organization is performing to engage the young Latino voters. Mable

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Janis Hirohama was born in Japan on an U.S. Army base as a third generation Sansei. She spent most of her time growing up in Hawthorne, California . A working class neighborhood where many families were employed by the local Aerospace industry. Her neighborhood was mixed with second to fourth generation Latinos, a handful of African Americans and Whites. She grew up in a traditional Japanese American household where their family projected their cultural values on her: study hard and get a good education, uphold the family honor, never dishonor your family, be accountable to your community and always behave honorably. Her mother used to tell her “Comb your hair, you look like Yoko Ono” and there was nothing worse than being married to a hippie. Janis had to go to Japanese school to learn Japanese in Gardena, a nearby city where many Japanese Americans lived. Janis’ family shopped, bought their food, and went to all the local service providers in their community.

Her parents voted and encouraged her to vote. They didn’t make a big deal of it. However, she remembers when she was young and watching the Watergate hearings on TV. Senator Daniel Inouye was a prominent figure during those proceedings and it was a point of pride for her that a U.S. Senator was a Japanese American. However, she remembered John Ehrlichmann calling him “You little Jap” at one point of the proceedings and how it awakened her political consciousness that he would be subjected to outright bigotry. She clipped and saved an article detailing the event as it made a significant impact upon her.

During World War II, her mother, two sisters and older brother lost all their possessions and were put into the internment camp with all the other Japanese Americans in Poston, Utah. This experience had a major impact for her mother and she never alluded to the experience except to say obliquely “When we were in camp….”. She never explicitly talked to them about the experience. For years, Janis thought her mother was referring to a “summer camp”. Janis shared with us a saying “There’s a 100 ways to tell you’re a Japanese American….one of them is that camp doesn’t refer to summer camp”.

Janis remembered her first time seeing the film “Farewell to Manzanar” in 1993. It clearly articulated her feelngs about incarceration in camp. How people were so traumatized and ashamed to be put into a concentration camp. How they suffered unjustifiable burdens of shame. She remembers her mother who liked to write poetry and stories and that was the only subject she wrote about. The Japanese Americans were not open to talking about their experience and it created major impacts on their lives and their families. It taught them as Japanese Americans to keep a low profile, stick to their own communities, trust only people in your community. They didn’t want to leave their small communities and have to worry about being discriminated against. Janis was raised to be quiet, trust only your own kind and that it could happen again. Janis said that there was self consciousness being in groups of Japanese Americans. They felt that if White people saw you together, then you must be “up to something”.

Janis had no women mentors nor strong role models. When she graduated from college and became a litigator in the 1980’s for a Wall Street firm, it was very unusual to see an Asian American in that role. In fact, she was oftentimes mixed up by people in the firm with the other Asian American woman who happened to be a Chinese woman.

One of the reasons why Janis became involved with voting and eventually became the President of the California Chapter of the League of Women Voters California League of Women Voters is because her grandparents were barred from voting. They did not earn the right to vote until years later and then voted in every election. She saw what happened when minorities didn’t vote. She learned that the Japanese Americans were easy to target. Many of them were too young to vote and nobody called the community to tell them about their rights to vote. So they were powerless. She saw how it was important that we all use the right to vote as a way to change things.

Janis got involved with the League of Women Voters because their primary efforts are to inform and encourage active participation in government. Through their educational efforts, advocacy and empowerment of women to vote, they can teach them how to lobby within their own communities.
However, the League of Women Voters is not a diverse organization. It is largely a White and older group. It is important to reach economic and racially diverse communities to build and expand the organizations.

Janis said that there are numerous reasons why minorities do not vote in higher percentages:
-They come from a culture of non-voting
-Immigrants mistrust the government
-There is no confidence that their votes will be counted
-Lack of information and a language barrier
-Initiative system is confusing and doesn’t provide enough information
-Lack of creation and culture of voting and civic engagement in minority communities

She goes on to say that the Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are a very diverse group of cultures. Many people do not speak English. While most people try to put all AAPIs into one bucket, it isn’t about “one size fits all”. The Japanese Americans had to fight hard for citizenship and many Japanese Americans died to get the right to vote. More recent immigrants did not face the same exposure and hardships and their issues are different.

We want to thank Janis for all her hard work and efforts to getting more women and minorities to vote and be engaged. She is setting a very strong role model for the rest of us in the years ahead. Congratulations on being the first woman of color President for the League of Women Voters in California. Mable

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In New Mexico, everyone voted and considered it their duty. When Dolores turned 21, she registered to vote and it was a big deal for her and her family. As a young girl, she remembers hearing President Franklin D. Roosevelt making a speech and making a strong impression upon her.

Dolores got involved with the CSO, Community Service Organization where she met Cesar Chavez. Together in 1962 they both quit the CSO when they were refused the right to organize the farm workers and formed the National Farm Workers Association, the precursor to the United Farm Workers of America.

Dolores has been active in organizing and registering Latinos to vote. She has been knocking on doors in the community to conduct the critical face to face efforts since 1955 and has never stopped.
She remembers going door to door to find out if people were eligible to vote and if they were, they would mark the door with an “X”, so that the next person following would register that person.

On a bright Saturday morning our team approached a beautiful Arts & Crafts home in Oakland, California to conduct an interview with Dolores Huerta, Co founder of the United Farm Workers of America and Founder of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. It was a very important interview for a number of reasons and a deeply personal one for many of us. For Victoria, our filmmaker it was an opportunity to interview a heroic woman who is one of the most important icons that she grew up with in her community. For Annie & myself, we would have a chance to meet a woman whose incredible work, courage and commitment has been burned into our memories. As young women we grew up hearing the struggles of Dolores Huerta & Cesar Chavez to build the National Farm Workers Association and their historic grape boycott. Dolores proudly shared with us that over the years as an advocate for farm worker rights, she has been arrested for conducting non-violent peaceful union activities on twenty two separate occasions.

As we walked into the spacious and beautiful home of one of Dolores’ many supporters we were quickly hugged and engulfed into the community that follows and supports Dolores in her travels. We were greeted by Ramona, her dear friend who was accompanying Dolores on this trip and ultimately by many other women in the household. It was a warm friendly gathering of women who had never met before, yet united by the desire to support and to hear the story of Dolores Huerta and her important work.

When Dolores first came into the room and shook my hand, I was immediately struck by the intensity and friendliness of Dolores’ eyes. She looked at me intently and I could feel the energy and passion within her. When you meet someone of Dolores’ stature and accomplishments, you never really know how you will feel. I felt both honored and eager to hear Dolores’ story and thrilled to be able to capture her comments on videotape for our documentary. Dolores has an extremely busy schedule as she travels around the country campaigning and accompanying Hillary Clinton on her Presidential campaign. She also is representing the Dolores Huerta Foundation speaking about the great work that they are accomplishing through their programs. We were very fortunate that Dolores felt our work to be important enough for her to participate in our documentary and deliver her views about voter engagement for women.

Dolores was born and raised in New Mexico and lived there until she was 6 years old. Her grandparents and great-grandparents were also born and raised in New Mexico. The family celebrated all the Mexican holidays and her mother made sure that she had a strong sense of their culture. Dolores’ parents divorced when she was 3 and her mother raised herself, her 2 older brothers and 2 sisters as a single mom. Her mother, Alicia was a strong role model for Dolores. She owned a restaurant and a hotel where they often housed farmworkers and their families. In addition, she was responsible for starting the Mexican Chamber of Commerce and was a prominent figure in her community. Dolores’ mother made sure that she had an excellent upbringing and encouraged Dolores to be a Girl Scout for 10 years in the program. Her father, Juan Fernandez was a field worker, union activist and state assemblyman.

Her family household was bi-lingual where they spoke both Spanish and English. Her grandfather insisted on speaking Spanish as Dolores always remember him saying “English is the language of liars. They have to write the words down on paper because they don’t always keep their words.” This must have been reflective of the experiences he encountered in New Mexico.

She has been actively involved in promoting and getting legislation passed to help register people to vote. When we asked her if she ever heard stories about voter intimidation and voter suppression tactics, she said absolutely. She vividly remembers asking for voter registration forms so that they could go out into the community and register all the voters. At the registrar’s office one time, she was given only one single form. When she stated that they were going to be able to register hundreds of voters, they refused to give her any more forms. This was clearly how voter registration tactics and suppression was taking place. It’s not the most obvious tactic, but it effectively diminished the efforts to register every eligible voter. She said there are numerous instances where many voters are “shaved off” the registration lists in areas where there are predominant Latinos who could vote for one specific party.

Dolores stated that there a lot of reasons why minorities don’t register and turn out to vote. She said that many people feel their votes don’t count. For many Mexicans, there used to be a “poll tax” that was levied against them in order for them to vote, basically charging them a “fee” for voting. For others, if they were receiving welfare, they weren’t sure whether they were eligible to vote due to their welfare status. Many others do not understand the ballots themselves and worry about voting for the wrong person or the wrong position on a ballot initiative.

To address some of these issues, they can be shown a sample ballot, instructed on how to read the information and then vote the way they wish. Also, being told that they don’t have to vote for the entire ballot, only for the people they wish to vote for or initiatives they care about helps to alleviate the fear of voting for the wrong person.

In the 1960’s Dolores recalled voter intimidation tactics in San Diego. There would be people physically standing in the polling stations, verbally challenging Latinos’ rights to vote, thereby scaring them from exercising their rights and diminishing turnout. There have many instances of voter intimidation and suppression throughout the years. It culminated in a California initiative called Proposition 187 that was approved by the voters in 1994. It was essentially an initiative designed to deny illegal immigrants social services, healthcare and public education. While it was approved by 58% of the voters and implemented the next day, it suffered from a number of appeals. By 1998, Governor Gray Davis dropped the last remaining appeals effectively killing the law.

Dolores said the outcome of Prop 187 was that it resulted in a huge increase in voter registration for Latinos and immigrants before the passage of Prop 187 to ensure that people who were eligible to become citizens actually registered. Another significant outcome was that the Latino communities came together and put together a long term strategic plan to increase their representation in the State legislature so that there are now 27 Latino legislators.

Dolores is also a strong feminist supporter and believes that women need to get out and vote. She started a Dolores Huerta Foundation Dolores Huerta Foundation whose mission statement is:

To inspire and motivate people to organize sustainable communities to attain political and social justice

Dolores is an amazing and inspiring woman who passionately believes that we should exercise our rights and make sure we demonstrate the power of the individual by voting. Thank you Dolores for all that you have done to make this a better world for all of us. Mable

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