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From the Executive Director: Honoring the Memory of Our Past Leaders

By June 5, 2020June 11th, 2020No Comments

David Inoue

As we continue to reel as a nation, first from the COVID pandemic and now what seems to finally be a recognition from our country of the injustice that black men and women face, it seems that JACL has not had the time to acknowledge our own loss. Within the time of just a few weeks, we learned of the passing of Helen Kawagoe and Lillian Kimura. Lillian was JACL’s first female president, serving one term from 1992-94, and Helen soon followed her with two terms from 1996-2000. We have not had a woman elected president since.

Lillian’s election also saw the adoption of several resolutions seeming to usher in a new age of focus on what were seen as women’s issues. Today, I think we can all agree that they are universal issues such as sexual harassment, family leave and a woman’s right to choice.

Yet, where are we as a nation, nearly 30 years later? The MeToo movement revealed the true depths of how pervasive and unaddressed sexual harassment is in our society. Family leave was the signature policy issue for Ivanka Trump throughout the 2016 campaign and the first few years of her father’s term. The result has been a mere 12 weeks of leave only for federal workers. Paid family leave remains a benefit for too few workers, generally those in more privileged positions.

And with recent Supreme Court appointments, many fear that the longstanding precedent of Roe v. Wade could be overturned by an activist Supreme Court and as individual states also seek to erode women’s rights to choice and even access to basic health care.

More distressing is the fact that the average white woman still earns only $.81 to every dollar earned by a white man. The differences become even more stark when broken out by ethnicity.

Some Asian ethnicities do well, with Asians on average earning $.90 to the dollar. This is boosted by Indian women, who earn $1.20 per dollar, Chinese women are on par with white men and Japanese women earn $.92 per dollar.

However on the other side of the averages are Nepalese women, who earn $.50 per dollar, Cambodian women at $.57 per dollar and Vietnamese women at $.67 per dollar earned by a white man.

For other minority groups, the differences are also stark. African-American women earn $.62, Native American women earn $.57 and Latinx women earn $.54 per dollar. Statistics from were taken from and

These disparities persist despite women typically attaining both undergraduate and graduate degrees at higher rates than men, with these differences again even more pronounced for minority groups.

Gender disparities such as this have the power to reinforce themselves. When our second child was born and we were faced with the cost of two children in childcare, we had to seriously consider whether it was worth it for both of us to work, or if it might make more sense to have one stay at home with our children.

At the time, with my wife’s income being the lesser one, it obviously would have meant her leaving her job at the time, negatively impacting her opportunities for advancement and growth for the time she was away.

Fortunately, we worked things out, but many other families are not able to make things work and must make the decision of which job is able to better support the family if one parent must stay home with the children.

If I might continue my digression around my own family, I often hear fathers talk about how they are in the fight for gender equality because of their daughter. I, too, want equality for my daughter, but that’s not fighting for gender equality, that is fighting for my own daughter.

It is the fight for other people’s daughters, wives, mothers that we must make the expectation. This is why it is important to recognize the differences even within our own Asian American community as shown in the statistics above.

In a final case of symmetry, Lillian began her term as president in the wake of the 1992 L.A. riots that occurred following the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers who had beaten Rodney King, also caught on video.

Nearly 30 years later, we are now in a fight for justice for the brutal deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. We must recognize that racism is not limited to the extremes of the lynching of black men.

We absolutely must call for justice for their deaths, but we must also seek justice for the racism and sexism that manifests itself more often in our daily lives. In particular, we must fight against disparate wages, home ownership rates and access to health care services. Our education system is based on neighborhood boundaries long ago set by discriminatory redlining policies. The system is rigged, and we must rebuild it to work for all.

As our country is freshly invigorated in the fight for racial justice, we must recognize and remember the bright intersection with gender inequality and the multiplying effect it has on the effects of racism. We do this to honor the memory of Lillian and Helen, but also because this is what JACL must stand for.

David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.