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October 01, 2002

Human Rights Hero: Patsy Takemoto Mink

by Paul Igasaki

The recent passing of Patsy Takemoto Mink left a vacuum in public life and among advocates for the powerless, the poor, the neglected, and the mistreated in America. Her life was filled with "firsts" because she was unwilling to accept the limitations of prejudice or stereotype. She had to go to court to become the first Asian/Japanese American woman lawyer in Hawaii because, despite her roots in Hawaii, her residency was determined by her husband’s. After serving Hawaii in the territorial legislature and the state Senate, she became the first woman of color to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1965. She was the only Asian Pacific American to run for president, allowing her name to be placed on the Oregon Democratic primary ballot in 1972 to protest the Vietnam War. And she was the first woman to serve as president of the Americans for Democratic Action and as chair of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Congressional Caucus.

Patsy served in Congress from 1965 to 1977 and from 1990 until her death on September 28, 2002. In between, she served as the assistant secretary of state for Ocean and International, Environmental and Scientific Affairs, where she worked to strengthen environmental policies. She also was elected as chair of the Honolulu City Council.

But Patsy is most notable for her tireless and determined advocacy for justice, equality, and human needs. She was a courageous fighter for children, women, minorities, the environment, the poor, and for peace. She sponsored the Early Childhood Education Act, the Women’s Education Equity Act, and Title IX of the Higher Education Act Amendments that required equality for women in college expenditures, opening new opportunities in college sports and in other programs. With her colleagues, she marched up the Senate steps demanding fairness for Anita Hill in 1991.

Patsy was an early opponent of the Vietnam War and was especially concerned with the neglect of social needs in times of war. She participated in a boycott of French President Jacque Chirac’s speech to Congress to protest French nuclear testing in the Pacific. She warned that the 1996 welfare reforms could hurt children. She spoke against racial profiling whether it involved African Americans on the street or Asian Pacific Americans at nuclear defense labs or campaign funding investigations.

Her gutsy idealism made her a trailblazer and a role model for women, for Asian Pacific and Japanese Americans, and indeed for all Americans who shared her progressive vision of a just and caring America. Whenever a voice of courage and strength was needed, Patsy Mink was there. To call her an advocate for any of the many groups she fought for is simply inadequate to reflect her dedication to the common good. She is truly a Human Rights Hero.

— Paul Igasaki