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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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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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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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Walking into the Castro Theater on a midweek in San Francisco, I was surrounded by hundreds, maybe a thousand other excited women.  As I looked around,  I saw women of every color, nationality, sexual preference, young, old, grandmothers, daughters sitting in anticipation.  We were waiting to see the 10th Anniversary of the Vagina Monologues produced for a special one day show on International Women’s Day. Sitting onstage were a number of women who were White, Asian, Latina, African American all dressed in  outfits of vivid red and black. They were the actresses of the  monologues that would be given that evening.

All of sudden in unison, the women began speaking and the performance began.  A young slender Asian woman strode up to the middle of the stage and began her monologue. She was forceful, angry, bewildered, compliant, demanding and exuded confidence. It was a powerful performance and drew a spirited applause when she sat down.  The woman performing was none other than Anne Ho, the first woman we interviewed for our documentary Engage Her.

I was extremely proud and amazed at the talent, passion and performance that Anne delivered throughout the evening.  It felt great to see a young woman whom I knew up on the stage telling it like it is and not holding back.  At the end of the performance I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed the monologues for a variety of reasons.  One thing really stuck out in my mind.  I loved hearing women speak loudly, passionately and boldly about their pain, emotions, distress and anger.  It was something we rarely see in our society.  Angry women who are not afraid to share, display and shout it out with pride. We are such suppressed women and always aware of how we need to keep our emotions in check.  To see women display a wide range of emotions including happiness, sadness, anger and fear in one evening was liberating.

Anne’s story is an interesting one.  Her parents came from Viet Nam where they met in their 20’s and emigrated to Southern California. Anne was brought up in a Vietnamese community in Orange County nicknamed “Little Saigon”.  It is a large thriving community of Southeast Asian families who went to school, shopped, raised their children and married one another.  Anne’s parents always wanted her to do well at school and eventually marry a nice Asian boy, have children and succeed. When asked if her parents voted…Anne said no.  She said that her father didn’t want to hassle with voting and her mother was concerned that if she registered to vote, she would be called for jury duty. Her real discomfort with jury duty wasn’t her lack of civic duty.  Instead it was because she isn’t comfortable nor fluent with English and didn’t want to expose her insecurity.

We asked Anne if she discussed politics with her girlfriends and again, she said no. They weren’t interested nor  encouraged by their parents to vote.  Same story with Anne.  Since her parents didn’t vote, they didn’t encourage her to vote either.  Anne went away to school and attended Stanford University in Northern California where she became interested in politics and government. The students were  politically concious and active. Anne joined a political group and became  involved with national politics. When she graduated and moved to San Francisco for her first job, she joined the Rock the Vote campaign,  engaging youth into the voting process.

She said that it was interesting being a young woman, Republican and living in San Francisco.  She rarely ran into very many young Republicans.  However, she discovered that the young people who attended the Rock the Vote concerts were very engaged, enthusiastic and interested in the political process.  We asked her if she used the New Media i.e. blogs, videos, podcasts, social network sites to gain her information about politics.  She said yes and that it was a natural way that people accessed their news.  All her friends communicate online and blogs are a part of her everyday life. Her friends loved to visit and discuss all the politically “edgy” websites like the Daily Show and loved to consume their celebrity gossip online. They regularly watched videos online and forwarded them to one another.

We asked her about politicians and their use of websites.  She said that they all visited the websites regularly. It made them feel equal with the politicians.  It “humanized” them and  took them off their pedestals.  In fact, it was their media of choice.   Visiting websites, blogs, viewing videos to gain their information was their preferred way of gathering information. 

She shared with us an interesting incident where she physically attended a fundraiser. It was an event where people typically donated a large amount to attend. She was invited by someone and was curious about meeting people. However, when she was there, she felt very alienated and uncomfortable. Instead of being welcomed and asked about her interests, she didn’t feel comfortable with the other attendees. The other attendees made her feel as if she didn’t belong there nor treated her like she was a part of the group.  No one  welcomed her nor  invited her into their discussions.

When she does return home to visit her family, we asked her if she talks politics to her girlfriends who remained in their community. She said they had no interest in discussing those things and were more concerned with their personal lives.  We asked her if she thought her parents and community cared about the Iraq War and terrorism threats to our country.  She frankly replied that the Iraq War is such a distant topic that doesn’t affect their everyday lives.  Minorities are narcissistic and only care about issues that directly impacts them. They want to know “how will this affect me directly and what’s in it for me?”  She attributed that to their cultural background.  Both  of  her parents came from a communist country where people had to focus on taking care of their own immediate needs. There was no democracy and people weren’t allowed to vote. They had to accept whatever  rules and conditions the government dictated to them.

We also asked if it made a difference to her parents if there was an Asian candidate running for office. Would it encourage them to vote? She gave us an example where there was a Vietnamese candidate on the city council who had proposed local legislation allowing a strip mall to develop and bring in more businesses. Anne said the combination of a local business issue and a Vietnamese legislator helped to motivate the Vietnamese community to engage and support the issues.  If there were more Asian and minority candidates that represented the minority community issues, she felt that would motivate and significantly increase the turnout of  minority voters.

Anne is now a first year law student at the University of San Francisco and is actively engaged with the community and politics.  She represents the future of our country of young people who are dedicated, passionate and committed to building a better and brighter future for all of us.  Thank you Anne for your commitment.

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