Friday, July 20, 2012

T.G.I.F. -- Patsy Mink: Pioneer Powerhouse

While most people have probably heard of Title IX and think of its main application in terms of providing equal access for girls and women in high school and college sports, many people may not know that (1) Title IX was actually proposed with the idea of equality of education for women and covers 10 areas, including equality in sports (2) The principal architect and sponsor of this bill -- a bill that was subsequently renamed in 2002 to honor this congressperson's achievements, is Patsy Mink.

Patsy Mink in the 1960s when she first came to Congress

Patsy Mink was an extraordinary woman.  She was born Patsy Matsu Takemoto on December 6, 1927 and grew up on a plantation in Maui, Hawaii (although it should be noted that her father was one of the few college-educated plantation employees -- he was a land surveyor -- and received a very good salary, certainly better than the laboring plantation workers in the fields).  Mink wanted to become a doctor, but found that a combination of sexism and racism barred her from medical school.  So she got a law degree from the University of Chicago, but subsequently found that a combination of sexism and racism prevented her from being hired in both Chicago and Honolulu.

[Mink was one of 2 Asian Americans and 2 women in her graduating class--she also met and married her John Mink, a graduate student in geology, while at U of Chicago]

So Patsy Mink got involved in politics.  And while the path to Congress would take too long to recite in this blog space, the important thing to know about Patsy Mink is that she became one of eight women in the House of Representatives and, most significantly, she was the first woman of color, the first Asian American woman, the first Japanese American woman, to serve in Congress.

PBS is airing a documentary, Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority, which you can watch on-line through July 31, 2012 (click here for the link to the Independent Lens website and here for a link to the filmmaker's website).  It's truly a wonderful documentary that chronicles the life of a truly extraordinary woman.  A woman who was a true liberal lion--who spoke out against the war in Viet Nam.  Who fought on behalf of women and poor people.  Who always spoke up for what she believed in, even when her opinion was a minority opinion and not well received.  She was one of the 66 people who voted against the Homeland Security bill post-9/11.  And, as noted in the beginning of this post, she fought for equal access for women in higher education--because Title IX forced colleges and universities to open up the admission process in graduate and undergraduate admissions to women, enabling the current equity we now see for women entering medical and law school. 

June 23 marked the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX -- I am a direct beneficiary of its passage.  I am a direct beneficiary of the legacy that Patsy Mink left in terms of her public service, in terms of her fighting for social justice, in terms of her breaking down barriers and showing up as an Asian American woman at a time when that phrase "Asian American" wasn't even in existence and when a woman's place was believed to be in the kitchen not the halls of Congress.  Title IX expanded educational access for women--I don't know the faces or names of the countless women who have been impacted by Title IX, but I do know the face of one woman who was key to its implementation.

Patsy Mink in the 1990s

Four years ago, I introduced a series called the T.G.I.F. Award, which stands for "The Great Impossible Feat" -- and although it's been a while since I last gave out one of these, I think it's very appropriate and long overdue to honor Rep. Patsy Mink for all her many contributions to helping people in the U.S. who would otherwise not have a voice--women, people of color, poor/working class people. 

Thank you Patsy Mink, especially on behalf of all young girls, THANK YOU!

“What you endure is who you are.  And if you just accept and do nothing, then life goes on.  But if you see it as a way for change, life doesn’t have to be this unfair.  It can be better, maybe not for me, I can’t change the past, but I can certainly help somebody else in the future so that they don’t have to go through what I did.”
--Patsy Mink

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