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The Presidential Candidate from Pa’ia (and who also impacted the Olympics)

February 24, 2014 - Ray Tsuchiyama

Long before Pa’ia transformed into the funky crowded beach-front village of today, it was a bustling small plantation town with Japanese shops. In the 1930s my father, uncles and grandmother would travel from Kahului in their beloved Ford car and meet friends there. Perhaps they would have met the Takemoto family on an outing. The Takemoto father was well-educated and unusual in the Maui Japanese community – the first Nisei graduate of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Class of 1922, barely four years after World War I and 15 years since the founding of the university. The Takemoto grandparents were originally from Kumamoto Prefecture*, the same region as my grandparents’ ancestral town.

The Takemoto Sansei or third-generation daughter, Patsy, born and raised in Pa’ia, was an unusually gifted student. She graduated from Maui high school when she was 16. She was the valedictorian no less, unusual as a female graduate, at a graduation ceremony three years after the Pearl Harbor attack.

She also ran for President of the United States of America in 1972, and until Barack Obama, was the only Hawai'i resident to do such an audacious act. She was the first Asian-American presidential candidate. No other Mauian has ever run for President.

Of all Mauians in history, Patsy Takemoto Mink was among the most industrious, most ideologically committed, and extremely focused (perhaps a better word than “stubborn”) – all Kumamoto regional traits, her genetic imprint.

Her passion and politics grew out of what she perceived as an unjust, unfair, undemocratic, and just-plain un-American plantation society of her childhood and youth. Her fearless mission to help the powerless and minorities was shaped further by her innovative education at Maui High School by idealistic Mainland teachers who created a generation of American citizens with democratic values through a liberal education promoted by Thomas Dewey and his evangelists.

She was predestined to enter politics – she could not stand idly by when there was so much injustice and inequality in plantation Hawai’i, and indeed in all of America; when she entered politics, the South still had many segregated Jim Crow laws still on the books.

A dozen years after her passing, many have forgotten her achievements. What were the highlights of her long distinguished career and what were her “firsts”?

*Member of Congress: 12 Terms, first elected in 1965. First minority woman elected to Congress (Simply and amazingly, that means all other American minority women -- African-American, Hispanic, and Native American -- were elected to Congress after her first House of Representatives victory.)

*Assistant Secretary of State, Oceans and International, Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 1977 to 1978 (She was “before her time” in environmental and ocean issues.)

*National President, Americans for Democratic Action, 1978 to 1981

*Hawai'i State Senate, 1962 to 1964

*Hawai'i Territorial Senate, 1959

*Hawai'i Territorial House of Representatives, 1956 to 1958 (She was elected by Maui voters to the T.H. House when she was barely 29 years old.)

*Member of the Honolulu City Council, 1983 to 1987. Council Chairwoman, 1983 to 1985

*Attorney in private practice, 1953 to 1964 and 1987 to 1990. First Asian American woman to practice law in Hawai'i.

What made Patsy Mink “run” so hard in the political world?

After receiving baccalaureate degrees from University of Hawai'i at Manoa in both zoology and chemistry in 1948, she faced rejection after rejection by Mainland medical schools (she reportedly applied to 20!). She wanted so badly to become a physician, to help people.

She gave up her dream to become a physician, and later applied to the University of Chicago Law School – which accepted her and other women – not a widespread practice in the early 1950s.

Her rejections and other discriminatory actions against her remained embedded in her mind. She would strategize how to open schools and athletics to women and minorities. She knew that to pass new laws meant changing American society.

In hindsight, Patsy Mink was a primary force behind the landmark Title IX legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 1972. Why was that law so significant – and I will explore later -- why does the Olympics Games become relevant? Before that legislation, U.S. high schools and universities could have lavish men’s football, baseball, and swimming programs and it was not at illegal to have nothing or much smaller programs for women, except for cheer-leading squads in athletics programs.

Title IX immediately made “gender discrimination” by federal funded institutions illegal, and that opened up school athletics and academics to women. Without Title IX, all the women’s teams representing the U.S. at the Olympics would not exist, ranging from women’s slaloms, ice hockey, swimming, and running – taken for granted today, but if not for Patsy Mink, a different world on television from Sochi, Russia. Title IX went beyond just sports – it covered equality in all aspects of school athletics: financial aid, career counseling, coach hiring, admission practices, and the treatment of students.

With the passage of the Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) in 1974 – a Mink-sponsored law, government support was provided to assist schools in the recruitment of girls for math, science, and athletic programs. Without WEEA, American schools would continue – without any sanctions -- sex-role stereotyping in elementary and secondary education, so that STEM courses would not be for girls.

The Early Childhood Education Act is the name of various landmark laws passed by the United States Congress outlining federal programs and funding for childhood education from pre-school through kindergarten. The first such law was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Mink in the 1960s.

Years later, Congress declared all of these Mink-led laws as “landmark laws”, advancing equal rights in the U.S. In 2002 President George W. Bush renamed Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act to become the “Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act”.

What motivated Mink to pursue these transformational laws came from her childhood and youth experiences in Pai’a.

Imagine today, in 2014, if girls’ high school basketball was restricted to just the half-court. That was Maui High School when Mink wanted to play the full basketball court with other girls from the plantation camps.

Maui’s (and the rest of the 50 States) playgrounds and fields are today full of girls’ soccer, basketball, lacrosse, tennis, running, and also the counseling, facilities, and specially-hired coaches.

Imagine if that was all gone.

Imagine if it was totally OK for schools to exclude girls from advanced math and science courses.

Imagine not one medal-winning American Winter Olympics female athlete on television.

The entire United States owe Patsy Takemoto Mink a great debt for what we take for granted in a more equal society today, one that she fought for so hard and valiantly over decades. And from small plantation Pa’ia she also ran for President of the United States of America. Imagine that.

*Kumamoto prefecture is in southwestern Kyushu island, one of the main Japanese islands. Probably 11 - 13% of all Japanese immigrants to Hawai’i and the Americas hailed from Kumamoto, a traditionally economically challenged region, like Sicily of Italy or County Galway of Ireland. In my visit to Sao Paulo, I met many Brazilians of Japanese descent who share Kumamoto – with me -- as their ancestral home. Former Governor George Ariyoshi’s mother is from Kumamoto, so there may be an over-representation of Kumamoto-linked people in politics.


Article Comments



Mar-07-14 1:14 PM

A nice appreciation, Ray, but I quarrel a little with your (and her) characterization of the plantation system as un-American.

It was all too American, although the logic of the Constitution was against its continuation. It took an unconscionably long time for the egalitarian clauses to start to become effective, and the Republican Party is working desperately to roll back the clock.


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