Patsy T. Mink sworn in as first Asian American woman and woman of color in Congress

Patsy T. Mink sworn in as first Asian American woman and woman of color in Congress

Elected in 1964, Patsy T. Congress.

Throughout her career, the U.S. representative for Hawaii was a strong supporter of civil and women's rights, as well as an advocate for children, labor unions and education. Serving as a member of the Committee for Education and Labor, Mink was vocal in her opposition to the Vietnam War and was a supporter of a national daycare system, Head Start and the Women's Educational Equity Act.

Mink, who co-founded the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in 1994, was a key author and sponsor of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which outlawed sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal funding.

''It's rare as a legislator that you fight for legislation you believe in and stay around or live long enough to see it come to fruition,'' she told a group of top women basketball players in 1995.

The daughter of second-generation Japanese immigrants, she was the first Japanese American admitted to the Hawaii bar in 1953 and the first woman to serve in the Hawaii territorial House of Representatives in 1956. Mink served in Congress from 1965 to 1977, and following an unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid, she was appointed assistant secretary of state for oceans and international, environmental and scientific affairs under the Jimmy Carter administration from 1977-1978.

After her time in the Carter administration, Mink continued to work in public service, including as a member of the Honolulu City Council and as founder of a watchdog organization that reported on Hawaii's state legislature. She was again elected to Congress in 1990, serving until her death at age 74 in 2002. Soon after her death, Title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

READ MORE: Asian American Milestones: Timeline


Patsy Mink: “Ahead of the Majority” and First Woman of Color in Congress

As a Japanese-American from Hawaii, Patsy Mink became the first woman of color in Congress and the first Asian American woman to serve in Congress in 1964. Her work for the advancement and equality of women not only affected politics, but also education and reproductive rights.

Patsy Mink was born in 1927 in Paia, Maui. Although Mink was the first female president of her high school student body and graduated as the valedictorian, she faced discrimination as a woman of color in college. Mink was assigned to the international students’ dorms because people of color were not allowed in the main dorms. In addition to facing discrimination as a person of color, Mink also faced gender discrimination when applying for medical schools. After Mink was rejected from several medical schools because of her gender, she applied to the University of Chicago’s law school where she was accepted as a part of the “foreign quota.” “Someone in law school had not read up their American history and hadn’t realized Hawaii was annexed in 1898 and that we were all American citizens,” Mink recalled.

After no law firms would hire her, Mink continued to specialize in family and criminal law. She also became involved in local politics, becoming the first Asian American woman elected in the Hawaii House in 1956. Mink then continued to become the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964, serving for 12 terms. Mink also became the first Asian American to run for U.S. President in 1972.

In Congress, Mink was the principle author of the 1972 Title IX legislation that guarantees that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Title IX has had huge impacts not only on women’s sports, but also on women’s participation in higher education in general. Mink also introduced the first comprehensive Early Childhood Education Act.

In addition to Title IX and the Early Childhood Education Act, Mink advocated for civil rights, health care, welfare, the environment, and education. In 1970, Mink testified before Congress against President Nixon’s Supreme Court nominee, George Carswell. Mink objected Carswell’s nomination based on sexism, stating, “I am here to testify against his confirmation on the grounds that his appointment constitutes an affront to the women of America.” After Carswell’s nomination failed, Justice Harry Blackmun, who later wrote the majority opinion for the landmark case, Roe v. Wade, was appointed to the Supreme Court.

Mink was known at times to be controversial as she continued to draw attention to women’s inequality. “It is easy enough to vote right and be consistently with the majority,” Mink said. “But it is more often more important to be ahead of the majority, and this means being willing to cut the first furrow in the ground and stand alone for a while if necessary.”

Following her career in Congress, Mink went on to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. After her death in 2002, Title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

Media Resources: The Atlantic 9/16/18 Women’s eNews 8/26/15 Women on 20s Feminist Majority Foundation 7/18/16


PATSY MINK

In 1959 when Hawaii became a U.S. State, Patsy Mink knew she wanted to run for a position in government. Little did she know, she would become the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress. In addition to writing bills like Title IX, the Early Childhood Education Act, and the Women’s Educational Equity Act, Mink was the first Asian-American to run for U.S. President.

Patsy Matsu Takemoto was born on December 6, 1927 in Paia, Hawaii. One of two children, her father, Suematsu Takemoto was a civil engineer. When she was a junior at Maui High School, she won her first election as class president. She graduated in 1944 as the valedictorian. After graduation, she went on to attend Wilson College in Pennsylvania and the University of Nebraska but transferred after facing racial discrimination. All students of color were not allowed to live in the same dorms as white students. In addition, Mink was diagnosed with a thyroid condition that needed surgery. She decided to move to Honolulu to finish her schooling at the University of Hawaii with hopes of becoming a doctor. At her new school, she became a member of the varsity debate team, and was elected president of the Pre-Medicine Students Club. She graduated in 1948 with majors in zoology and chemistry. She applied to several medical schools after graduating but none of her applications were accepted. Instead, Mink decided to apply to law school and was accepted at the University of Chicago Law School.

While at the University of Chicago, she met John Mink playing the card game bridge at the International House. The two married and remained in Chicago. Patsy graduated from Law School in 1951 but kept her job at the University of Chicago Law School library. The next year, they moved to Hawaii after having their daughter Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn would grow up to be an author and advocate for women’s issues. While in Hawaii, Patsy Mink registered for the bar exam to be able to practice law in the territory. Unfortunately, even after she passed, Mink was unable to find a job because of her interracial marriage. She decided to start her own practice instead and founded the Oahu Young Democrats in 1954. She became the first Japanese-American woman to practice law in her home state of Hawaii. Mink also worked as a private attorney for the House of Representatives in that territory. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Mink immediately began campaigning to be elected as a congresswoman. Although Mink’s first attempt was unsuccessful, she returned to politics in 1962 when she won a seat in the Hawaii State Senate. She continued to campaign for a seat in the U.S. Congress even after the Democratic party decided to support another candidate.

In 1964, a second position was created in the U.S. House of Representatives. With the help of her husband and several unpaid volunteers, Mink won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, making her the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress. As a congresswoman, Mink fought for gender and racial equality, affordable childcare, bilingual education, and became a supporter of Title IX. She was one of the authors and sponsors of the Title IX law that stated that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” [1] While she worked in Washington, D.C., she also traveled back to Hawaii every other week to make sure she was connected to the issues and concerns of the Hawaiian people. She successfully served on many committees while in congress including the Committee on Education and Labor, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, and the Budget Committee. Through these committees, she was able to voice the concerns of groups that were discriminated against. In 1974, she was able to pass the Women’s Educational Equity Act to promote gender equality in schools.

Recognized for her work, Mink was asked by the Oregon Democrats to run for United States President with the support of their party. Their focus on the anti-war movement attracted Mink, and she decided to run for president. Unfortunately, she only received 2 percent of the vote. After this, Mink remained active in politics and served as the president of the Americans for Democratic Action. She also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. In 1990, Mink was reelected to Congress and served six terms in the House of Representatives. During this time she also formed the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. In August of 2002, Mink was hospitalized for pneumonia. A month later, Patsy Mink died in Honolulu, Hawaii. Due to the upcoming election, her name was still on the ballot in November even though she passed away a month before. She won the election by a landslide but was replaced by Ed Case. After her death, the Title IX law was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.


How These Asian Women Dared To Be The First

Women are powerful yet often overlooked for their contributions to history. These four Asian women used their influence and dared to be the first in their accomplishments. Pushing past the limits and barriers in their way, we will explore the lives of Patsy Mink, Yuri Kochiyama, Kalpana Chawla, and Chien-Shiung Wu.

Patsy Mink

(Source: PBS)

Patsy Matsu Takemoto is the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress and the first woman of color elected to the US House of Representatives. She is also the first Asian-American to run for U.S. President.

Patsy did not let anything get in her way of forming change. She contributed to the Early Childhood Education Act, the Women’s Educational Equity Act, and Title IX. In honor of her life and work, the Title IX law was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

As a congresswoman, Patsy fought for gender and racial equality, affordable childcare, bilingual education, and supported Title IX. She was the voice of many groups that experienced discrimination. She did this by serving on multiple committees such as the Committee on Education and Labor, Interior and Insular Affairs, and the Budget Committee.

Alongside fighting for minority groups and the unheard, Patsy still was connected to her people. She traveled to Hawaii every other week when she was living in Washington D.C. to make sure she heard the Hawaiian people’s issues and concerns.

Yuri Kochiyama

(Source: Los Angeles Times)

She was a civil rights activist founding the Asian Americans for Action. The main goal of Asian Americans for Action was to build a political Asian american movement that links itself to the black liberation movement.

Yuri Kochiyama was a member of the Young Lords Party that fought for Puerto Rican independence. She also worked to free US political prisoners while also co-founding Asians for Mumia to fight for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s release.

Yuri Kochiyama’s courage and strength extended beyond herself. She fought for all people and cared for many. The love she had for everyone is an excellent example of how we should love everybody. Kochiyama hoped to leave a legacy behind, stating,"build bridges, not walls."

Kalpana Chawla

(Source: Sambad English)

Kalpana Chawla was born July 1, 1961, in Karnal, India. She was a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches. She tested software for the space shuttles —later known as the first Indian-American woman astronaut in space.

Kalpana was licensed to pilot single and multi-engine aircraft. After Kalpana received her Ph.D., she started working with NASA as a powered-lift computational fluid dynamics researcher. In 1998 she was the Vice President of Overset Methods Inc., where she also did research.

NASA selected her to train as a mission specialist for the 1996 mission aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. Through this mission, Chawla became the first woman of Indian descent to travel to space.

Kalpana Chawla’s life highlights the importance of education and how little girls can be whatever they want.

Chien-Shiung Wu

(Source: New Scientist)

Chien-Shiung Wu was born May 31, 1912 in a small town near Shanghai, Wu. Known as the first lady of physics, Chien-Shiung Wu became a physics instructor at Princeton University and Smith College.

At Columbia, Chien-Shiung started investigating beta decay. She made the first confirmation of Enrico Fermi’s theory of beta decay. Alongside her contributions, her research helped answer biological questions about blood and sickle cell anemia.

She was the first woman to serve as president of the American Physical Society. She gained multiple awards such as the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Award, the Comstock Prize, and the first honorary doctorate awarded to a woman from Princeton University.

So much history, legacies, and contributions from these women. All of them dared to be first, pushing back to society’s norms, telling them what women can and can not do. Little girls globally can see themselves in these women as they dared to step out in STEM and politics leaving lasting impressions.

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Women’s History Month Spotlight: Patsy T. Mink

Representative Patsy Takemoto Mink (Democrat-Hawaii) puts a homemade nameplate on the door of her new office here on January 1st, 1964. The only female to be elected to the 89th Congress, Mrs. Mink was also the first woman of color to serve in Congress. via The Atlantic.

March is Women’s History Month, and in celebration of the many extraordinary women who have impacted history, we are sharing some features about inspiring women we greatly admire.

As we researched inspiring women to feature, we found this inspiring article about a revolutionary woman that we are honored to share with you. This article was written by Kerri Lee Alexander, NWHM Fellow, via the National Women’s History Museum.

Patsy T. Mink campaigning with family and supporters, [1966]. Photographer unknown. via Library of Congress.

In 1959 when Hawaii became a U.S. State, Patsy T. Mink knew she wanted to run for a position in government. Little did she know, she would become the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress. In addition to writing bills like Title IX, the Early Childhood Education Act, and the Women’s Educational Equity Act, Mink was the first Asian-American to run for U.S. President.

Patsy Matsu Takemoto was born on December 6, 1927, in Paia, Hawaii. One of two children, her father, Suematsu Takemoto was a civil engineer. When she was a junior at Maui High School, she won her first election as class president. She graduated in 1944 as the valedictorian. After graduation, she went on to attend Wilson College in Pennsylvania and the University of Nebraska but transferred after facing racial discrimination. All students of color were not allowed to live in the same dorms as white students. In addition, Mink was diagnosed with a thyroid condition that needed surgery. She decided to move to Honolulu to finish her schooling at the University of Hawaii with hopes of becoming a doctor. At her new school, she became a member of the varsity debate team and was elected president of the Pre-Medicine Students Club. She graduated in 1948 with majors in zoology and chemistry. She applied to several medical schools after graduating but none of her applications were accepted. Instead, Mink decided to apply to law school and was accepted at the University of Chicago Law School.

While at the University of Chicago, she met John Mink playing the card game bridge at the International House. The two married and remained in Chicago. Patsy graduated from Law School in 1951 but kept her job at the University of Chicago Law School library. The next year, they moved to Hawaii after having their daughter Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn would grow up to be an author and advocate for women’s issues. While in Hawaii, Patsy Mink registered for the bar exam to be able to practice law in the territory. Unfortunately, even after she passed, Mink was unable to find a job because of her interracial marriage. She decided to start her own practice instead and founded the Oahu Young Democrats in 1954. She became the first Japanese-American woman to practice law in her home state of Hawaii. Mink also worked as a private attorney for the House of Representatives in that territory. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Mink immediately began campaigning to be elected as a congresswoman. Although Mink’s first attempt was unsuccessful, she returned to politics in 1962 when she won a seat in the Hawaii State Senate. She continued to campaign for a seat in the U.S. Congress even after the Democratic party decided to support another candidate.

In 1964, a second position was created in the U.S. House of Representatives. With the help of her husband and several unpaid volunteers, Mink won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, making her the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress. As a congresswoman, Mink fought for gender and racial equality, affordable childcare, bilingual education, and became a supporter of Title IX. She was one of the authors and sponsors of the Title IX law that stated that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” While she worked in Washington, D.C., she also traveled back to Hawaii every other week to make sure she was connected to the issues and concerns of the Hawaiian people. She successfully served on many committees while in congress including the Committee on Education and Labor, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, and the Budget Committee. Through these committees, she was able to voice the concerns of groups that were discriminated against. In 1974, she was able to pass the Women’s Educational Equity Act to promote gender equality in schools.

Image via Honolulu Civil Beat

Recognized for her work, Mink was asked by the Oregon Democrats to run for United States President with the support of their party. Their focus on the anti-war movement attracted Mink, and she decided to run for president. Unfortunately, she only received 2 percent of the vote. After this, Mink remained active in politics and served as the president of the Americans for Democratic Action. She also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. In 1990, Mink was reelected to Congress and served six terms in the House of Representatives. During this time she also formed the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. In August of 2002, Mink was hospitalized for pneumonia. A month later, Patsy Mink died in Honolulu, Hawaii. Due to the upcoming election, her name was still on the ballot in November even though she passed away a month before. She won the election by a landslide but was replaced by Ed Case. After her death, the Title IX law was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

Check out this great video from PBS:

Author: Kerri Lee Alexander, NWHM Fellow, via the National Women’s History Museum
Featured image by: Oiselle

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the revolutionary women you admire – reach out to us on Facebook, Instagram, and check out the other posts on the blog!

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Honoring AAPI History: Notable Figures

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have undoubtedly been a crucial presence throughout American history. This month of May celebrates the achievements and contributions that AAPI individuals and communities have made! For that reason, we’ve curated a list of notable AAPI figures involved in activism and the government (amongst the broader, impressive array of AAPI figures). By no means is this list an end-all, exhaustive record showcasing the most important accomplishments or figures, but a simple, informative exhibition of people that we personally appreciate and would like to share. For further information on AAPI history, check out this website !

1. AAPI in Government

Dalip Saund


Image from Google

Dalip Saund was the first Asian American, Indian immigrant, and Sikh American to be elected to Congress. This was an outstanding moment in our AAPI history! Elected in 1956 as a Democrat, Saund was also reelected twice, which was amazing given the criticism and reluctance surrounding his ethnicity and religious beliefs. Though he unfortunately had to convince others that he was thoroughly Americanized, Saund never forgot his roots as a farmer and consistently supported small-scale farmers and businesses.

Hiram L. Fong


Image from Google

Born in Hawaii to two illiterate Cantonese immigrants, Hiram L. Fong was the first Asian American to be elected to the Senate. The 7th of 13 children, Fong grew up working menial jobs like shining shoes, catching fish, selling newspapers, and more. Truly coming from the bottom, Fong was able to work his way up by showing outstanding academic success while simultaneously working to pay for his tuition. Graduating from Harvard Law School and joining the U.S. Army Air Force after the Pearl Harbor attack, Fong was able to run for legislature in 1944. Through much trial and even more effort, Fong eventually served in the Senate for 18 years, from 1959 to 1977.

Patsy T. Mink


Image from Google

Also born in Hawaii, Patsy T. Mink was the first woman of color, first Asian American woman, and third-generation Japanese American to be elected to the House of Representatives. Overcoming sexist prejudices at the time (like being denied entry to take the bar because she was married and had child), Mink broke through each barrier by challenging these unfair, sexist laws. At the same time, she had to deal with racial prejudices as well, especially because of her interracial marriage. These trials would eventually prompt Mink to become a lifelong women’s advocate, promoter of gender equality, and supporter for the AAPI.

Tammy Duckworth


Image from Google

Born in Thailand, Tammy Duckworth was the first Thai American woman and first woman with a disability elected to Congress, not to mention the first U.S. senator to give birth in office! Now a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel with a Purple Heart, she is celebrated for her brave service in Iraq, where she suffered a grenade attack while flying a helicopter. Losing both of her legs didn’t stop her from serving in the Illinois National Guard, though. After her service, she ran for public office and eventually reached the Senate. Amidst all of her work in the Senate, she also faced challenges as a mother, which eventually led her to implement bills such as the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act. For more information, check out her interview and featured documentary .

2. AAPI Activists

Philip Vera Cruz + Larry Itliong


Image from Google

Before we go into their achievements, we’d especially like to address the gross invisibility of Filipino American history in U.S. education, discourse, and written texts. Though Filipino Americans were one of the first Asian Americans to arrive in the U.S., there is surprisingly little mention of their histories, and this group is frequently excluded in many panAsian initiatives as well.

Born in the Philippines, Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong were Filipino American labor leaders who worked closely with Cesar Chavez. At the time, many Filipino immigrants came to the U.S. and worked in “ manongs ,” or agricultural fields in the West. Filipino labor was taken advantage of, receiving insufficient pay for long hours in the scorching heat. It was nearly slave labor with the filthy labor camps and lack of rights or healthcare. Both Vera Cruz and Itliong worked in these manongs from a young age, eventually started striking because of the horrible conditions, and ultimately helped form the Filipino Farm Labor Union in 1956. Most notably, Delores Huerta and Cesar Chavez from the National Farm Workers Association joined hands with Vera Cruz and Itliong and formed the United Farm Workers, achieving successes for all agricultural workers through radical, strenuous work, leadership, and organization.

Grace Lee Boggs


Image from Google

Born in Rhode Island to Chinese immigrants, Grace Lee Boggs was a Chinese American human rights activist involved with civil rights, philosophy, feminism, the environment, and much, much more. Receiving a PhD in philosophy, Boggs was constantly radicalizing and exploring what it meant to be “American” in a racist, sexist society. Her work in activism truly exploded in Chicago, where she fought for workers on the ground level, founded youth and community programs, and joined the Worker’s Party and Detroit Black Power Movement. She married Black activist James Boggs and strongly supported cross-cultural activism. For more information, we recommend watching this documentary !

Yuri Kochiyama


Image from Google

Born in California to Japanese immigrants in 1921, Yuri Kochiyama and her family were forced to relocate to internment camps after the Pearl Harbor attack. Her father, arrested and branded as a “Prisoner of War” by the FBI right after a surgical procedure, was detained for six weeks (which worsened his already poor health) and died shortly after his release. Meanwhile, in the incarceration camps, Yuri Kochiyama met her husband and developed her passion for activism. After release, she moved to New York and started her work, participating in civil, human rights, ethnic, and racial movements. She worked most closely with the Puerto Rican and Black American communities, and truly pioneered cross-cultural solidarity and the intersectionality movement.

3. Asian American Political Alliance

Image from Google

Founded in 1968 at the University of California Berkeley, the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) is celebrated for coining the term “Asian American” at a time when Asian ethnicities were called “Orientals,” the “silent minority,” or simply their more specific ethnic subgroup. Graduate students Emma Gee, Yuji Ichioka, Floyd Huen, Richard Aoki, Victor Ichioka, and Vicci Wong, by creating AAPA , joined the broken ethnic subgroups into a larger multiethnic community. This was also more effective for political demonstrations and collective progressive activism. Speaking out against acts such as the McCarran Internal Security Act (credited for the Japanese American internment camps) and the Vietnamese War, AAPA sought to bring equality to all people of color and spread anti-war and anti-imperialist movements. Actively working with African American, Chicano, and Native American groups, AAPA found this joint collaboration important in combating imperialism and racial injustice, and also in supporting fellow minorities.

Yuji Ichioka


Image from Google

A Japanese American historian, civil rights activist, and founding member of AAPA, Yuji Ichioka (along with his family) were incarcerated in Japanese internment camps during WWII. After their release, Ichioka attended UCLA and subsequently, Columbia, but never finished his studies. After his trip to Japan, Ichioka was deeply inspired by its culture, and later earned his master’s degree in Japanese history at Berkeley University. Helping to coin the term “Asian American,” Ichioka was a huge proponent of Asian activism at the time and later became the first professor to host an Asian American studies class at UCLA.


5 Asian American political trailblazers who changed the United States

From paving the way to the naturalization of people of Indian descent to writing laws that guaranteed gender equality in education, Asian American politicians have made a lasting impact on the institutions of the United States.

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, NBC Asian America looks back at some of these political trailblazers.

Patsy Mink (1927-2002)

The first woman of color elected to Congress, Patsy Mink showed her determination at an early age.

Born and raised in Paia, Hawaii, Mink graduated from Maui High School in 1944 as class president and valedictorian.

While pursuing an undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska — which reportedly had a policy of segregating minority and white students into separate dorms — Mink started a student coalition that successfully lobbied to end the segregation policies.

Later, she attended law school at the University of Chicago. In 1964, Mink was elected to Congress, becoming the first Asian American woman and the second woman from Hawaii to serve in Congress.

Mink focused on issues affecting Asian Americans, women and families. She co-authored and sponsored the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, which was passed in 1972 and prohibited gender discrimination in education programs in public schools as well as at colleges and universities. President George W. Bush renamed the law after Mink's death in 2002, at 74, the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

“America is not a country which needs to demand conformity of all its people, for its strength lies in all our diversities converging in one common belief, that of the importance of freedom as the essence of our country,” Mink said during a speech in 1967 before the House of Representatives.

Dalip Singh Saund (1899-1973)

Dalip Singh Saund was the first Sikh and first Indian American elected to Congress.

He emigrated from India in 1920 through way of Ellis Island, and attended the University of California, Berkeley, for his masters and Ph.D. in mathematics. After getting married, he and his family moved to the farming community of Westmorland, California, where Saund became interested in politics. But because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen, his ability to participate was limited.

In the 1940s, he organized efforts to open citizenship to Indians living in the U.S. and eventually Congress passed a bill in 1946 allowing Indian immigrants to pursue naturalization. Saund officially became a U.S. citizen in 1949. The following year, he ran for a judgeship and won, but the election was vacated because he had been a citizen for less than a year. Saund successfully ran again two years later and served for four years.

In 1955, Saund announced his campaign to run for the House of Representatives as a Democrat and was re-elected twice. He was a supporter of the 1957 Civil Rights Act and used his own story to advocate its passage.

“No amount of sophistry or legal argument can deny the fact that in 13 counties in one state in the United States of America in the year 1957, not one Negro is a registered voter,” Saund, who died in 1973, at 73, said during a speech in support of the law. “Let us remove those difficulties, my friends.”

Hiram Fong (1906-2004)

Born to Chinese immigrants in Hawaii, Fong was one of Hawaii's first senators, the first Asian American senator and still the only Republican elected to the Senate from Hawaii.

He attended Harvard Law School and was elected a member of the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives in 1938. He put his political career on hold during World War II, when he served as a judge advocate in the U.S. Army Air Forces, but he was re-elected when he ran in 1946.

After Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959, Fong was elected to the Senate, and held the seat until he retired in 1977.

As a Republican, Fong said in a 1985 interview that he felt the Hawaii House of Representatives was too one-sided during his time there. He referred to himself as a “maverick” when recalling a dispute with a fellow Republican, Roy Vitousek, when Fong chose not to vote for him as speaker of the House.

“I wasn’t a conformist,” said Fong, who died in 2004, at 97. “I felt that things should be equally balanced. And I still think now it is unequally balanced. That it should be balanced. That one side should hold the other side's feet to the fire. That's the way you have good government.”

George Ariyoshi (1926-)

Born in 1926 to Japanese immigrant parents in Hawaii, George Ariyoshi was the first Asian American governor of a U.S. state and Hawaii’s longest-serving governor, in office from 1974 to 1986.

Before public office, he was an interpreter with the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service in Japan at the end of World War II. When Ariyoshi returned to the U.S., he attended college at the University of Hawaii in Manoa and transferred to Michigan State University. He went to law school at the University of Michigan in 1952.

He started his political career in 1954 when he was elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives. He was later elected to the Hawaii Territorial Senate and then the Hawaii State Senate, serving there until 1970 when he was elected lieutenant governor.

When John Burns, the governor at the time, fell ill in October 1973, Ariyoshi became the acting governor. In 1974, Ariyoshi won election outright. He was re-elected in 1978 and 1982.

Ariyoshi's administration was marked by fiscal conservatism. Since retiring, Ariyoshi, now 93, has remained active in the business community.

In an interview in 2008, Ariyoshi recalled a conversation he had with Burns before jumping into politics.

“I told Jack Burns that primarily what I saw in the community was inequality in this community. I told him that everything depends on who you know,” Ariyoshi said. “And I told him I don’t want to live in a community like that. I want to live in a community where if I’m better than somebody else, I win. If somebody else better than me wins, that person wins. That’s the kind of community I want to live in. And then he told me, ‘Run for office.’”

Norman Mineta (1931-)

Born in San Jose, California, in 1931 to Japanese immigrants, Mineta and his family experienced anti-Asian policies first hand when they were denied the ability to naturalize and were detained in an incarceration camp in Wyoming during World War II.

In 1967, Mineta was appointed to a vacant San Jose City Council seat by then-Mayor Ron James. In 1971, Mineta became the first Asian American mayor of a major city in the U.S., and in 1974, he ran for a seat in the House of Representatives.

While in Congress, he was instrumental in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for the injustices faced by Japanese Americans during World War II. He also established the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) in 1994 to ensure that federal legislation and policies reflect the needs of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

In 2016, he wrote an essay in Time magazine about his hopes that history would not repeat itself.

“This is the time when we must appeal to the good in humanity to create a more just nation that treats all Americans with the dignity they deserve,” Mineta, now 87, wrote. “We must ensure that the most tragic civil rights chapters in our history remain where they belong — in history books and museums as part of our past, and not as part of our future.”

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Patsy Mink

Patsy Mink in 2002, just a few months before her death.

Public domain (Housing and Urban Development photo)

Patsy Matsu Takemoto was born in Pā‘ia, Hawai‘i Territory on the island of Maui on December 6, 1927. Her parents, Suematsu and Mitama Takemoto, were second-generation Japanese immigrants. Hawai‘i became a U.S. territory in 1900 but was not admitted as a state until 1959.

During college, Patsy encountered racial and gender discrimination, which inspired her later advocacy for civil rights and equal opportunity. As a junior at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, she successfully challenged racial segregation in student housing. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Patsy applied to several medical schools. Because she was a woman, her applications were all rejected.

Patsy switched gears and applied to the University of Chicago Law School. Even though she was born in Hawai‘i, she was mistakenly accepted as part of a ‘foreign student quota.’ There was only one other woman in her class, Minna Rodnon Buck. During law school, Patsy met and married John Mink, a graduate student. Their daughter Gwendolyn was born in 1952.

After earning her law degree, Chicago law firms refused to hire Patsy because of her race and interracial marriage. The Minks moved to the Territory of Hawai‘i, where Patsy became the first woman in Hawai‘i licensed as an attorney. She was admitted to the bar in 1953, permitting her to practice law in the Territory. Yet, firms continued to turn her down. Undeterred, Patsy taught business law, started her own private practice, and joined the Democratic Party.

In 1955, Patsy became an attorney for the Hawai‘i territorial legislature. The following year, she was elected to the territorial House and later to the territorial and state Senates. When Congress admitted Hawai‘i as a state in 1959, Patsy ran for the sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Because she sometimes broke with other Democrats in the Hawai‘i legislature and resisted their efforts to influence her politics, local party leaders resisted her campaign and contributed to her defeat. After the 1960 census, Hawai‘i obtained a second member in the U.S. House. In 1964, Patsy successfully ran for this new seat. She served in the House from 1965 until 1977, the first woman of color and the first Asian American to do so.

As a Congresswoman, Patsy was a fierce advocate for women, children, and minorities. She was a strong supporter of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs and promoted civil rights legislation. Some of Patsy’s most notable accomplishments were as a member of the Committee for Education and Labor. She fought for various educational reforms, including a national daycare system, Head Start, and the Women’s Educational Equity Act.

Patsy Mink is perhaps best known for her work with Representative Edith Green and Senator Birch Bayh on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that receive federal funding. As its major author and sponsor, Patsy has been called, “The Mother of Title IX.”

Even when it put her at odds with her own party, Patsy was unafraid to speak out. She was one of the only members of Congress to oppose the Vietnam War. She also testified against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge George Harrold Carswell, citing his discrimination against women. In 1971, she sued the Environmental Protection Agency to release documents about nuclear testing under the Freedom of Information Act. That year, she became the first Asian American woman to run for president. Running as an anti-war candidate, Patsy opposed the Nixon administration’s reversals of civil rights legislation and continuation of the Vietnam War.

In 1976, Patsy gave up her House seat to run in the U.S. Senate primary. She lost to her fellow congressman, Spark Matsunaga. After this defeat, President Jimmy Carter appointed Patsy the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International, Environmental, and Scientific Affairs. After leaving this post in 1979, Patsy spent several years supporting community and political organizations in Hawai‘i. She was elected to and eventually chaired the Honolulu City Council.

Even when out of elected office, Patsy remained focused on lawmaking. In 1989, she founded The Public Reporter. This watchdog organization reported on the actions of legislative committees to help the public better understand the lawmaking process.


The Story Of The First Asian-American Woman Elected To Congress

In 1964, history was made when Patsy T. Mink won one of Hawaii's seats in the United States House of Representatives. Her win made her a woman of many firsts, including the first Asian American woman and the first woman of color to be elected to Congress. Only a few years after the island territory had been annexed as a state, the young, punchy lawyer made her way into national politics with an unapologetic agenda focused on breaking down barriers for women, children, immigrants, and minorities.

While she is most famous for championing the landmark law against gender discrimination in federally funded education, Title IX, the trailblazing politician has had a long history of overcoming discrimination and fighting for marginalized communities, both in Hawaii and on the national stage. From her days protesting segregated housing policies at the University of Nebraska to her brief stint as a presidential candidate in the 1972 election, here is the story of the first Asian American woman elected to Congress, Patsy Takemoto Mink.


9 AAPI Women Who Have Paved the Way in Political Activism

We’d like to honor Women’s History Month by recognizing the phenomenal Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women leaders who have trail-blazed and contributed significantly to building power for our community. These women have pioneered movements, authored key policies, and have led campaigns into the next century. They have shaped our country and inspired us.

Here are 9 AAPI women who have been foundational to our progressive movement.

Yuri Kochiyama

Yuri Kochiyama helped define American activism in the 20th century. Drawing from her own family’s internment and activists like Malcolm X, she advocated for issues like Black separatism, the anti-war movement, reparations for Japanese American internment, and rights for “political prisoners”. She founded the Day of Remembrance Committee to commemorate the authorization of Executive Order 9066 which initiated the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Grace Lee Boggs

Grace Lee Boggs was an American author, social activist, philosopher and feminist. She believed the positive social change came from cooperation in smaller groups, and not large revolutions. Accordingly, she and her husband founded Detroit Summer in 1992, a community movement that brought together people of all backgrounds to rebuild Detroit.

Patsy Mink was the first woman of color and the first Asian American woman elected to Congress. She was the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Hawaii, and she became the first Asian American to seek the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. She co-authored the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act (the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act) which was written to prevent discrimination in education on the basis of sex.

Haunani-Kay Trask

Haunani-Kay Trask is a Native Hawaiian academic, activist and influential figure in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement Ka Lahui Hawaii, the largest in the Islands. She was the first full-time director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, serving in the position for 10 years. She is also the author of the book From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai'i.

Pramila Jayapal

Pramila Jayapal is the first Indian American Congresswoman, and currently represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District. She previously represented the 37th legislative district in the Washington State Senate from 2015 to 2017. Jayapal was the executive director of OneAmerica until 2012, advocating for immigrant rights. Among OneAmerica’s successes was the protection of over 4,000 Somalis from deportation after successfully suing the Bush Administration's Immigration and Naturalization Services.

Mazie Hirono

Mazie Hirono is the first elected female senator from Hawaii, the first Asian American woman elected to the Senate, and the first U.S. senator born in Japan. Hirono was the only person of Asian ancestry serving in the U.S. Senate from 2013 until 2017 when Tammy Duckworth and Kamala Harris were sworn in.

Deepa Iyer is a South Asian American activist, writer, and lawyer. Her areas of expertise include the post 9/11 America experiences of South Asian, Muslim, Arab and Sikh immigrants, as well as national security and immigration issues. Iyer was the Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) where she guided SAALT’s work on civil and immigrant rights issues and community building. She’s currently a senior Fellow at Race Forward. She is the author of We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future which received a 2016 American Book Award and was one of the top 10 multicultural non-fiction books of 2015.

Dr. Hilda Heine

In 2016, Dr. Hilda Heine became the first female leader to be elected president of the Marshall Islands, which made her the first female president of any independent Pacific Island nation. Dr. Heine is a former education minister, the first Marshallese citizen to obtain a doctorate, and one of only three female members of parliament. Previously, she was the Minister of Education, the founder of the women's rights group Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI), and Pacific Resources for Education and Learning's (PREL) Director at the Pacific Comprehensive Assistance Center.

Helen Zia is a Chinese American journalist and activist for Asian American and LGBTQ rights. After the murder of Vincent Chin, she was one of the journalists that demanded justice for his death. Her journalism played a crucial role in bringing federal civil rights charges against his murderers. Her groundbreaking work helped to galvanize the Asian American community. She’s been named one of the most influential Asian Americans of the decade by A. Magazine.

In addition to these trailblazing nine women, we also recognize the countless AAPI women leaders who have built our political movement.

Let’s celebrate AAPI women today and every day. We must keep fighting for policies that enhance the livelihoods of women and young girls who will grow up to become our future leaders.


Watch the video: Empowering Asian American Women Political Leaders