Coffee with Mazie Hirono
Editor's Note: EMILY's List Blog will regularly feature an informal question and answer session with our candidates and rising stars. If there is a woman you'd like to see featured here, suggestions welcome in the comments below.
Coffee of choice: Kona Coffee
EL: What made you decide to first get involved in public service?
MH: By the time I was in college, I knew I wanted to help people and thought I would be a counselor or social worker. One summer, I worked with the YWCA to help youth in need. The work was rewarding, but I saw that the needs of the community were far greater than one person could serve. To truly change lives, action needed to come from many. That experience opened my eyes and set me on a course to get involved in public service to create the change that our country needs.
EL: So many of us know Hawaii as state with beautiful beaches, volcanoes and luaus. Can you tell us more about your home state that people often miss?
MH: It’s the people of Hawaii that make our state so special. They have so much aloha, which means a lot of things, but to me, it's about a kindness and caring for others. In Hawaii, we are part of the ohana, a belief that we’re all in this together. Even though we may come from different backgrounds and different races, it’s the tie that binds us. And you can feel that aloha spirit the moment you meet anyone from Hawaii.
EL: Everyone has their favorite comfort food from home. What’s yours?
MH: Poi and my mother’s homemade guava jelly.
EL: We know you spend most of your days fighting for the people of Hawaii, tell us more about what you like to do when you’re not working.
MH: First, I try to get back home as often as I can. I love spending time with my friends and family in Hawaii. I’m also a big reader and have become a huge fan of reading multiple ebooks on my iPad. Right now I’m reading Outliers and Literary Brooklyn.
I always like to ask my staff what their hidden talents are. Some are quite surprising – one staff member is a tap dancer and one of our young staffers played in a punk rock band at anti-Iraq war rallies! I’m a huge fan of the arts and a few years ago was able to get back to ceramics. Here’s a picture of one of my works. But don’t worry, I’m not about to quit my day job!
EL: Is there a particular woman who has been a mentor for you throughout your career?
MH: There are two women who have made a lasting impact on my life. The first is my mother. She is the bravest person I know. I spent my early years on my grandparents’ farm in Japan, where I was born. I was sent to live with them by my mother to escape a father whose alcoholism and compulsive gambling often left us with little. My mother plotted and planned her escape, saving as much as she could. When I was nearly 8, my mother, older brother and I fled Japan with one suitcase between us. My mother had to make what was a very wrenching decision to leave my baby brother with my grandparents. When the three of us landed in Hawaii, my mother set to work creating a new life for us. About two years later, my grandparents and baby brother arrived. It wasn’t an easy life, but if it hadn’t been for my mother's courage and determination, it’s doubtful I would have gotten the schooling I did (education wasn’t a priority for girls in those days in Japan) or been blessed with the opportunities I’ve had.
The second woman who made a tremendous difference in my life and the life of so many women who hold public office in Hawaii is the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink. Patsy was a powerhouse and I’m humbled to say she was a friend. She helped blaze the trail for so many of us.
EL: Do you have any pets?
MH: Yes, our beloved cat Hemic. We adopted him 17 years ago and he’s brought much laughter to our lives ever since. Hemi, the Ninja Neko (as we call him for his lightning fast moves), earns his keep pointing out bugs for us to "take care of." This year he added to his titles by being named the Top Cat in Congress by the Humane Society. He’s retiring from the competition when his reign is over though because there’s really nowhere to go but down. But in all seriousness, I urge anyone thinking about getting a pet to consider adopting from their Humane Society or local shelter. Hemi and his antics keep my mom, who lives with us, young. So many pets need good homes and you’ll get a good friend.
EL: You've got a really engaged Twitter page for your campaign – how do you think technology has changed political campaigns?
MH: Thanks! This is such an important aspect of campaigns today. Because now so many more people can get involved in political campaigns than ever before through social media and this allows us to have a two way conversation. The mom who can’t make it to a town hall can follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and learn about our positions and ask questions. Folks can join us for a tweet up and engage their followers in our conversation. It’s great that so many people are getting involved this way.
EL: We know you're a great progressive. Is there an accomplishment that you’re particularly proud of?
MH: Any day I’m able to stand up for middle class families in Hawaii and across the country is a good day. Whether it’s been my work to protect consumers to strengthening our schools to helping our veterans, knowing that this will make a difference in people’s lives is what I’m most proud of.