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Where EAST meets the Northwest

AHEAD OF THE MAJORITY. U.S. Representative Patsy Mink, a staunch supporter of equal rights, stands on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo/Dev OíNeill, courtesy of Making Waves Films)

From The Asian Reporter, V19, #43 (November 3, 2009), page 13 & 16.

Patsy Mink: A woman who defied her times

Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority

Directed and produced by Kimberlee Bassford

Distributed by Women Make Movies

Showing November 7 at Portlandís Hollywood Theatre

By Marie Lo

Women have a tremendous responsibility to help shape the future of America, to help decide policies that will affect the course of our history. And women need to be represented."

This is the call to action Patsy Mink dedicated her life to answering. She defied the social expectations of her day to become the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman elected to congress. In the award-winning documentary Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority, director Kimberlee Bassford presents the extraordinary career of an underdog who never saw herself as such. In an era when a womanís place was in the home, when Jim Crow laws were still in effect, when the political establishment was dominated by an old-boys network, and Hawaii was still considered an exotic playground for American tourists, the political rise of Hawaiian Patsy Mink on the national scene defied imagination.

Drawing on her personal experiences of racism and sexism, Mink set out to change discrimination laws so others would not have to go through what she did. As a result, she radically changed the landscape and demographics of the American education system.

Patsy Mink was born Patsy Matsu Takemoto on December 6, 1927 in Paia, Hawaii. She came of age during World War II, when the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor led to the internment of Japanese Americans on the U.S. mainland. Though she and her family were not interned, the injustice of internment awakened her political consciousness.

While studying at the University of Nebraska, she experienced first-hand the transformative power of speaking out against racism. The university housed all students of color in a dorm for "international" students, which prompted her to write a letter to the school newspaper decrying its segregation policies. Her letter caused a stir on campus and led to the desegregation of the dorms the next year.

Mink did not set out to have a political career. Growing up, she wanted to be a doctor, and after graduating from college she applied to 20 medical schools. When she was rejected from all of them because she was a woman, she decided to attend law school to challenge the discriminatory policies.

She graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1951, one of two Asian Americans and one of two women in her graduating class. It was also in Chicago that she met her future husband, John Mink. Even with her law degree, however, no firms would hire her, so she and her family returned to Hawaii, where she became involved in John Burnsí congressional campaign. In 1964, Mink campaigned for and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She served from 1965 to 1977 and again from 1990 to 2002.

Throughout her political career, Mink was guided by the belief that it was more important to be right and alone than to join the majority and be incorrect. She adopted many politically unpopular positions, including speaking out against the Vietnam War at a time when it was not popular to do so. Her anti-war stance garnered the admiration of Oregon peace activists who nominated her as their Democratic presidential candidate in the 1972 primary. She won two percent of the vote. She championed the rights of the poor during welfare reform in the í80s and í90s. And after September 11, 2001, she was one of the few in congress to vote against the Patriot Act.

Mink is perhaps best known for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which has since been renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. Co-authored with Oregon senator Edith Green, Title IX made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex in federally funded schools. Title IX provided equal access for women in graduate program admissions and to financial aid. In 1972, only nine percent of medical degrees and seven percent of law degrees were awarded to women. By 2006, the figures were 49 percent and 48 percent, respectively.

Though Title IX realigned the gender imbalance in schools and provided educational equity for women, it is most visibly and controversially associated with womenís athletics. Before Title IX, 98 percent of college athletic budgets went to menís teams. Title IX mandated that funding and opportunities be distributed to womenís teams as well, much to the opposition of menís athletics coaches. It is legislation that continues to be challenged by a male-dominated field today.

Bassfordís inspiring documentary focuses on Minkís career as opposed to the details of her private life, highlighting the extent to which Mink defined herself as a public servant. Using traditional documentary techniques such as interviews, newspaper clippings, news reels, and voiceovers, Bassfordís film paints a powerful portrait of a remarkable woman who was anything but traditional.

Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority is showing as part of the Siren Nation Womenís Arts Festival at noon on Saturday, November 7 at the Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Boulevard in Portland. For more information, call (503) 281-4215, or visit <> or <>. To learn more about the film, visit <>.