The following is the summary of a breakout session that was part of the 2016 Annual Conference.
- Moderator: Emily Murase, Ph.D., Executive Director, San Francisco Department on the Status of Women
- Margaret Abe-Koga, Former Councilmember and Mayor, City of Mountain View
- Aimee Sueko Eng, Director, Oakland Board of Education
- Yoriko Kishimoto, President of Board, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District; Former Mayor of Palo Alto
- Karyl Matsumoto, City Councilmember and Former Mayor, South San Francisco
- Mariko Yamada, Former California Assemblymember
“If you are not at the table, you’ll be on the menu.”–This quote summed up the strong sentiment from the five panelists who spoke on the importance and challenges of being active in advocacy, policy, and legislation.
Attendees heard from five Nikkei women occupying a variety of elected offices, including a School Board Member, Open Space Board Member, City Councilmembers, Former Mayors, and a former California State Assemblymember, all representing areas in Northern California. The panelists shared their personal stories and paths to elective politics. Though each woman experienced a different path, some having won or lost in recent elections, they all possess the common denominator of bringing change and making a positive impact for constituents in their respective municipalities and districts. These women have overcome daunting traditional norms and persistent gender roles to engage in the rough and tumble world of elective politics.
Additionally, all are believers of having the Nikkei voice heard in the halls of American democracy. Each spoke of the need for more Nikkei leaders, specifically Nikkei women, to have a voice in government through elected positions. During this time of changing political climate, values and ideologies, the need for Asian perspectives is even more important. Citing the great works of the late Senator Daniel Inouye and Secretary Norman Mineta, the need for strong leadership within the Nikkei community is paramount for the advancement of equal rights and fair-minded politics.
The challenges of running for a political post–such as the cost of running a campaign, securing important endorsements, and the inevitable personal toll and criticism that comes to political candidates and their families–are just some obstacles they encountered. Women are doubly challenged to hold office, as mothers and primary caregivers of their children and sometimes aging parents. The finite resources needed for work and family were also discussed as a hardship for furthering their political careers. The opportunity to effect change, however, is a good reason to get involved and make a difference for the greater good of society.
The panelists acknowledged that many elected positions are still held by white males, and this is a constant reminder that there is much work to do in the area of diversity. The panelists encouraged each other and the attendees to continue to work toward a diverse representation of Nikkei, Asians, women, and in general, people of color within elected politics.