Posts Tagged ‘asians’

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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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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