Posts Tagged ‘2008 elections’

2009 is a very exciting year for a lot of different reasons. An exciting new President, people coming together to work for a new America, voices of people engaged for the first time.  Something very cool coming from Obama’s election:  People wanting to volunteer and work together to “do something positive”.  It’s been amazing to hear of so many people who have been energized by the Obama campaign wanting to continue to contribute and volunteer to make a difference and have an impact.

While the reality is that we are faced with a serious recession that affects all of us: loss of jobs, loss of homes, budget cuts that slash services, teachers being laid off, cost of goods skyrocketing we historically have weathered the storm and emerged stronger and better.  Yes, it will be painful and it affects all of us deeply, but it also will teach us to “do more with less”.  It’ll teach us to work together, barter for services, buy what we need and not spend beyond our means.

Last year we created our documentary and discovered a movement. We never intended to create a movement or online organization…..we found women demanded it. So for the past few months we’ve been  planning what 2009 will entail for Engage Her and we are close to announcing some very exciting events, opportunities and partnerships that many of you have asked for.  Stay tuned…more to come.  Enjoy the inaugurals and then let’s get down to some serious work and develop our own solutions to the problems we all face.  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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My last post talked about reaching out to minority communities through their preferred media sources. I talked about how authentic and credible these mono and multi lingual media organizations are in their respective communities. While we may think that only the older generation of minority immigrants watch these TV channels, read the newspapers and magazines and listen to their radio stations, we’re wrong. Many young people and families choose to consume these types of media because of one important reason.

It’s the one place where minorities can see people, personalities, celebrities and families who look just like them. Where they can see Asian, Latino, African American, Indian, Middle Eastern newscasters, talk show hosts, celebrities discussing issues of importance to them. They can hear about movies, foods, events, and types of social, cultural, political and economic news that they care about. Where else can they find a plentiful choice of minority spokespersons and hosts talking about issues they really care about? Where else can they read about cultural events important to them in their local communities? Mainstream media companies miss this really important point. They need to pay attention to how they will market to the changing demographics and challenges of supporting these fast growing communities that cannot be reached in the traditional manner.

I’m pleased to announce that our documentary, Engage Her, just got written up by Nichi Bei Times, a leading Japanese American news organization that publishes news and information in both Japanese and English. Here’s the link to the article:
Working to engage minority women to vote

It’s fitting that the first announcement of our project is of great interest to the Asian American community and that it’s tied to coverage of the 2008 elections and politics in general. Nichi Bei Times realizes that Asian American women are concerned about politics, being involved and making a difference with our votes. We care and want to know about the issues that are most important to us and our families. Issues like the Iraq War, U.S. Economy, Education, Healthcare, Civil Rights, Employment, Immigration affects all of us and we need to inform and educate ourselves about these concerns.

The politicians need to address our issues with realistic solutions so that we can determine the best candidate to support and earn our votes. They need to remember that there were over 26 million minority women who were eligible to vote in the 2004 elections. In 2008 there are far more minority women who can now vote for our next President. Every month, one million Latinos & Latinas turn 18 and become eligible to vote. Minorities make up 30% of the overall U.S. population. In 2004, there were more women than men voters. We are the dominant majority of voters. We deserve the attention and support of politicians and the media.

We’re pleased to see that news organizations like Nichi Bei Times are thriving and growing in our ever changing world. They cover all the important issues and events on both a local and national level for their community. They serve a very important function of representing information and news in a trusted format to their readership. Unlike many of the other traditional news media, they have expanded to host their news online through their website to seek a broader and increasingly diverse audience. Kudos to Nichi Bei Times for their vision and coverage.


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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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care….Mable

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