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Archive for the ‘2008 elections’ Category

This morning as I was sitting in the auditorium at Jefferson Elementary School with hundreds of excited children, teachers, parents and friends, it was an amazing experience.   I watched my children sitting in the audience while the whole Inaugural process unfolded on a big screen. Listening to all the children’s excited chatter validated that it was the only place I wanted to be on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration as our 44th President.  Tears streamed down my face as I thought about how significant and amazing this victory was. Born and raised in Berkeley, CA I never thought I would see the day when an African American multicultural man would become the President of the United States. People think that Berkeley is this ultra liberal city and it certainly is today. It wasn’t like that when I grew up in the “flatlands”. Where immigrants and minorities were allowed to buy homes but “red lined” out of the prestigious properties in the Berkeley hills where only the non-minorities were allowed to live.

Yes, while I attended public schools I met and befriended children of all nationalities. However, I encountered a lot of racist comments.  Labels like  “Ching Chong Chinaman” and “slant eyes” were something that I was called. I’ll never forget the feelings of being labelled something demeaning or some one  to be ridiculed and made fun of because of the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes. I learned to rise  above those situations and to fight back. I vowed to educate people who made fun of us, not contribute to the dialogue of cultural racism.

When my twin boys were born 5-1/2 years ago, I had the stroke of luck to meet our nanny, Carolyn. She is an incredible woman who had been a nanny for decades and raised a number of children in several families.  She is loving, affectionate and an important member  of our family. My children only know and love her as their nanny. They don’t notice that she’s an African American because they only know her as Carolyn.  They aren’t “color blind”, they just don’t think about the color of people’s skins as something important.

These are all the thoughts and images that flash through my mind as I watched Barack Obama proudly state his inaugural oath.  What a glorious time to be alive and to see that we are all people…all united….and that deep down inside, it is about how we treat each other as human beings that truly counts.

It was wonderful watching the millions of people in Washington DC. But nothing could be more magical than to be with my children to share in their wonder and belief in seeing our new President Barack Obama being sworn in. They will grow up in a time when an African American will be their President, a woman will be their Secretary of State, the Cabinet members will be competent men & women who happen to come from all the different communities that make up our country.  This is a moment to savor forever.  Mable

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As we all hear about the great stories of women voting at the recent elections, one in particular stood out in my mind that I’d like to share with you all.  This is the story of Tameeka Kelley and the applause she received the day she brought her daughter to the polls to vote!  Tameeka is one of our members and strongest supporters.  Read on….
“Election day, I awoke with such new ambitions, not for myself, but for my children. I’ve never understood clearly why voting was so important, until the word “Change” became the desperate need for our nation.
Being a mother of three children, and not being able to afford a loaf of bread simplifies the need for change. Overall, this economy is deeply consumed by debt that my family and I had nothing to do with creating, but it is unfair that we the tax payers have to bail out the irresponsible. I seriously have to question, are we living in a country of democracy or enslavement?
I’m a very concerned parent and feel that it is very pertinent that we communicate with our children and expose them to what is necessary, especially  at time when it seems as if we are living in an abject society. As parents, mentors, and leaders,  we influence our children to make intelligent decisions by giving them options that can be determined often times by balance of good or bad. Well, the day of the election I gave my daughter no options but exposed her to the privilege  and power of voting. I had to drive 45minutes to from Hercules to Hayward  to get  the polls. I expressed to Thalia that voting was the only way we, as her parents can contribute to help change our nation. I also explained to her that we were not just voting for Barack Obama because he was an African American, but because he understood most of the problems that mommy and daddy were facing. Also, I told her that Obama has a plan, and is aware of what it is going to take to give her and her siblings a better opportunity in life.
We arrived at the polls, and as we walked through the door to vote, I explained to Thalia everything that I was doing at that moment and why. One of the most touching moments as I was signing my name on the confirmation list, is when  I glanced at the sheet and saw my parents signature. This was actually the first time they voted, which gave me even more of an adrenaline rush. I showed Thalia and she gave me this smile of honor and innocence that only a child can give, that she was proud and confident.
My daughter and I went through the ballot and the first thing we did was vote for our President.  She quickly spotted Obama and Biden’s names, and drew the line to accomplish our mission. I also explained to her all of the propositions as basically as possible.
As we completed the ballot and proceeded to place it in the machine, I couldn’t help but notice people staring.  As Thalia cast our vote into the machine, people began to clap and cheer. That was a special moment for my daughter and I, because from this historical experience she will remember and become a generational voter, when she is eligible to vote. I wonder, how many people will she encourage and impact to exercise their right to be heard. I’m already a proud parent, and now even more so, a proud American!! My vote helped to determine our 44th President-Elect,  Barack Obama.
________
The footnote to this story is that Tameeka has been deeply involved with Engage Her and has motivated and inspired her parents to vote for the first time. So she has exercised the greatest power and influence of all. She encouraged her parents to vote who have never participated before. She also gave her daughter Thalia the experience of a lifetime to be celebrated when she voted at the polls.  Tameeka contributed mightily to helping us rebuild and encourage our families and communities to participate.  Congratulations and kudos to Tameeka for all her hard work and efforts.   Mable

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Exciting news! We are having our film broadcast on a widely watched Mandarin news channel program called Dialogue 360  hosted and produced by Jay Stone Shih tomorrow night. On Thursday and Friday, October 16 & 17 our entire documentary will be broadcast in two segments. This is historic to be able to have a full documentary screened on a half hour news channel. Dialogue 360 is watched by a huge audience of Chinese Mandarin speakers and our film will be shown with subtitles.

There’s a story behind the making of the translation. It was a global project where we found a Chinese woman, Wu Nan who helped us quickly translate our document into Mandarin. I found her through a personal friend and famous blogger, Xiao Qiang who is the editor of China Digital Times one of the most widely read news portals on China related events. Xiao is also an Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley so he recommended his former journalism student Wu Nan who returned to Beijing and we made the connection.

After the show is broadcast in English with mandarin subtitles, you will still be able to view it on their website archives.  Tell any friends who speak Chinese/Mandarin to watch.  Mable

Here’s the press release about this important broadcast and hope you tune in.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Engage Her Announces Broadcast of Documentary in Mandarin

Publicly Acclaimed Documentary Motivates Women & Minorities to Take Political Action

October 14, 2008 (Berkeley, CA) – “Engage Her: Getting Minority Women to Lead and Vote”, a 48-minute documentary produced to inspire women minorities to participate in the political process, will be broadcast on the Dialogue 360 show in Mandarin. Jay Stone Shih is the producer and news anchor of this highly regarded program. The half-hour news show is carried on cable to millions of Mandarin-speaking viewers. The documentary will be broadcast in two segments, on October 16, and October 17, 2008 from 10:30-11:00 p.m. It is broadcast on Channel 38 or Comcast Channel 21 in Northern California.

Mable F. Yee, CEO & co-founder of the social action start-up EngageHer.org , hailed the broadcast as an historic outreach to the huge population of Chinese-speaking voters. The Chinese is the largest single community in the national Asian American Pacific Islander population. The film, co-produced by Yee and Director Maria Victoria Ponce, interviews leading minority women, including Germaine Wong, Chairperson of Chinese for Affirmative Action; Janis Hirohama, League of Women Voters California President; Lillian Galedo, Executive Director of Filipinos for Affirmative Action; Dr. Gwendolyn Mok, Associate Professor at San Jose State University; Margaret Ouye, Internment camp detainee; Congresswoman Barbara Lee; social activist Dolores Huerta and non-voters. The film shares their personal stories and explores the complex reasons why nearly 70 percent of Asian Americans and Latinas, and 40 percent of African American women, failed to vote in the 2004 elections. The movie trailer is available at www.engageher.org.

Getting the 30+ million minority women in the U.S. engaged in voting and leadership spurred Yee and Mina Wilson, a community activist and education consultant, to form EngageHer.org.

Yee says the organization was born out of the need to bring a voice to minority women, who are invisible in the media and lack adequate representation in our government, “These are the women whose children and families are most impacted by our inadequate education, health, and work policies, and yet our issues and concerns are not addressed. It’s as if we don’t exist.”

“We will use Engage Her as a platform to educate and activate women, minorities and communities to step up and influence our nation’s policies. Without our involvement, we lack a real democracy and our issues continue to be ignored,” Yee adds. “By creating a film that shows women discussing the cultural, social and political barriers that prevent or influence their voting behavior, is crucial to accelerating the process of engaging this huge block of voters and future leaders. To have our film translated with Chinese subtitles allows us to engage this population of voters in their own language so that they can better understand the reasons and need to participate in the voting and political process.”

In addition to the documentary, Engage Her is partnering with scores of national and regional minority, women and leadership organizations, including Mobilize Immigrant Voters, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Filipinos for Affirmative Action, Votolatino.org, Colorofchange.org, Momsrising.org, League of Women Voters, The White House Project, Women’s Media Center, Democracy for America and more. They will be collaborating to develop new initiatives to address their key issues of concern: Education, Health, the Economy, the Environment and Social Justice.

“We’ve had enough of candidates coming every four years to solicit our vote, and then disappearing until the next election without addressing the real issues that exist within our communities” says Mina Wilson, Vice President.

By bringing minority women’s voices to the table, EngageHer.org plans to achieve political representation and hold elected officials accountable for their actions. The nonprofit organization is harnessing the speed, scale, and reach of the Internet to rapidly engage members and leverage its members to demand change.

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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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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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Imagine standing in front of an overflow crowd of several hundred people at the California Democratic Party’s State Convention in San Jose, CA recently. Thanks to Lynn Shaw Hilfenhaus, Chair of the Women’s Caucus and Elmy Bermejo, our Director of Latina Affairs, I had the wonderful opportunity to announce our Engage Her documentary to this esteemed crowd. As I looked throughout the audience I saw an amazing collection of women and men of all ethnicities, races and ages holding up signs to support their candidates. I had a few minutes to describe our project and to let them know that our documentary was due out in mid June for national distribution. I could tell when I explained that there were 26 million or more minority women who could’ve vote in the 2004 elections that they were surprised the number was so huge. Letting them know that only 60% of African American women voted, while Asian American Pacific Islanders dropped down to 40% and Latinas were only 38% was eye opening. I mentioned briefly some of the amazing women that we are interviewing and that the documentary would conclude with solutions and calls to action. We now have national organizations and partners such as Momsrising.org, DemocracyforAmerica.com, League Of Women Voters who are interested in helping screen and host house parties for our documentary when it is released.

Afterwards, I was approached by a number of different organizations and individuals who are interested in hearing more about our documentary and the movement we are creating including Emerge California, National Women’s Political Caucus of California among others. It was exciting and gratifying to see such a strong response and interest in our project. Maria Victoria Ponce, our Filmmaker, Annie Masullo, our Director of Operations and Elmy Bermejo were there filming and networking with people as we handed out postcards announcing our documentary and blog. Women were very interested in hearing more about our project and I would hear feedback like “It’s about time”. A number of people kept telling us that we needed to get the documentary onto PBS for national screening since it is such an educational project and resonates with so many people.

It was an exciting moment to announce our documentary publicly and to see that it resonated so deeply with a very diverse audience. Everybody’s pushing us to get the documentary out as quickly as possible and we’re moving at break neck speed. Stay tuned for more individual interviews and videoclips. Mable

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