Washington, D.C. (Nov. 19, 2013) — U.S. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) was invited by Politico to write a piece on a female inspiration as a part of their “Women Rule” series.
This collection of essays acknowledges work women have done in the political sphere and in their communities. Hirono’s piece on Congresswoman Patsy Takemoto Mink is included in Politico’s Nov. 19, 2013 edition, currently available on newsstands and online.
By Mazie Hirono
When I arrived at the Capitol in 2007 to take my oath as a new member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I had the privilege of filling the seat held for so long and so well by my friend Patsy Takemoto Mink (www.patsyminkfoundation.org) the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress. I was so grateful to her.
I felt Patsy’s presence when I cast my first vote in Congress, which was to elect Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. I rose and said, “In memory of Patsy Mink, I cast my vote for Nancy Pelosi.”
I remember Speaker Pelosi turning around in her chair upon my vote and flashing me a knowing smile. Earlier, Nancy told me that Patsy was the first person to tell her that “one day, you’re going to be speaker.” And that day had arrived!
On that occasion, there were a lot of people with tears in their eyes remembering Patsy. Many came up to me then and thereafter, sharing their stories and memories. But I am sure she wouldn’t have wanted to be idolized or put on a pedestal. Instead, she would want us to work hard to build on the legacy she left behind.
A major part of Patsy’s legacy is the landmark Title IX legislation, which she co-authored and relentlessly fought for. It has been renamed the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. This legislation gives women and girls equal access to higher education, protection from sexual harassment and prohibits gender discrimination in all educational activities. No longer could universities and institutions of higher learning reject a woman because they had “fulfilled their quota of female students,” as many women were told, including Patsy’s daughter.
Title IX is best known for its impact on high school and collegiate athletic quality for women, and its continuing importance cannot be overstated, from its impact on female participants in the Olympics to the millions of girls participating in school and organized athletics.
As a young girl growing up on a Maui sugar plantation, Patsy could not have imagined where her life would take her — the first woman of color to serve in Congress, presidential candidate and author of landmark legislation enhancing opportunities for millions of women and girls. But there wasn’t any doubt in her mind that she wanted to make a difference, no matter how challenging or unlikely the path to get there.
Patsy was certainly a fighter, overcoming many setbacks throughout her life. Her dream of becoming a doctor was crushed at a young age when quotas for female students blocked her from medical school.
She lost races for the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, Hawaii governor, Honolulu mayor and the U.S. presidency. But no matter how many times she was excluded from traditionally male spheres, this did not hold back Patsy — inspiring me and many others along the way through her perseverance and risk-taking.
The last time I saw Patsy was in July 2002 when she was running for reelection and I was running to become Hawaii’s first female governor. She invited me to lunch and she told me, “Mazie, you just have to win.” We shared a progressive philosophy and a commitment to create opportunity for the people of Hawaii.
A few months later, Patsy passed away. Her death came as a shock to us in Hawaii as well as to her colleagues in the House of Representatives. That was a hard moment. And although I lost the race for governor that year, I knew Patsy would have encouraged me to keep fighting. So I did. I like to think that some of her dogged determination rubbed off on me, as I was elected to Congress in 2006.
Running for office is not easy. It’s not enough to want it. Patsy and I both recognized that a distinct trait in people who seek elected office is a willingness to take risks, to face the unknowns on the campaign and to ask total strangers for their vote.
Patsy and I would talk about politics and the need for women to persevere, often against daunting odds. She fought for equal opportunities, and I’m committed to continuing her work to encourage girls to take risks and “go for it.”
Patsy often said, “It is easy enough to vote right and be consistently with the majority. But it is more often more important to be ahead of the majority.” I know our country can remain forward-thinking by ensuring young women and minorities are given equal opportunity.
Last year, I was elected to the Senate — the first Asian-American woman ever to do so. As I walk to my office every morning, I know I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me. I stand on Patsy’s shoulders.
I still have the photo that we took during our last lunch together that July Fourth in 2002. It reminds me of what Patsy told me that day — to persevere because our work is not finished. I am proud to have called her my friend. Thinking about all she’s done strengthens my resolve to fight to see her legacy protected and expanded for future generations.
Mazie Hirono is a Democratic United States senator from Hawaii.