Murase makes history

Emily Moto Murase was sworn in as the first Japanese American member of the San Francisco Board of Education on Jan. 7, joined on stage by husband Neal Taniguchi and daughters Izumi and Junko at the Tenderloin Community School. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

Emily Moto Murase, who serves as executive director of San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women, was sworn in as the first Japanese American member of the San Francisco Board of Education on Jan. 7. Murase was installed with fellow board members Kim-Shree Maufas and Hydra B. Mendoza at a ceremony at the Tenderloin Community School.

Murase, who was sworn in by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Gail Dekreon, said it was somewhat “bittersweet” in that it took so long for a Japanese American female to win an election in the city.

“Diversity and inclusiveness are so important,” said Murase.

She mentioned that in the early 1900s, San Francisco School Board members were summoned to the White House to be admonished by then-President Theodore Roosevelt for ordering children of Japanese immigrants into racially segregated schools.

“I so believe that (all students) in San Francisco deserve the education that I received,” said Murase, who thanked her teachers from kindergarten through high school and said she wished her deceased parents were there to witness the event.

Three weeks after the Nov. 2 election, Murase overcame an election night deficit to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Education after absentee ballots were tallied up.

“Her election is a historic accomplishment as a JA woman, and our SF JA community is proud of her perseverance and hard work in the field of education and women’s rights,” said community leader Sandy Mori. “She will be effective on the Board of Education because she brings the parent perspective with her professional background in communications to the Board as she tackles the policy issues for public education.”

“It is wonderful to have a bright, sincere, enthusiastic, concerned person on the board who is Japanese American,” said Will Tsukamoto, a member of the executive committee of the Japanese American Democratic Club, which supported Murase’s campaign.

“She is hardworking and does not hesitate to ask advice from qualified people,” Tsukamoto added.

Those sentiments were echoed by other supporters.

“I am so proud of Emily and the campaign she ran,”  said Japantown community leader Allen Okamoto. “After a disappointing run the last time, she ran a strong effective campaign this year. Once the voting public saw that she is an articulate, intelligent person with true convictions, they voted for her.”

Mori and Okamoto also addressed why it took so long to see a Japanese American woman get elected in the city.

“I think running for public office takes a special person who not only has public recognition but also can raise the money for a successful campaign,” she explained, “and both [Public Defender] Jeff Adachi and Emily Murase reflect that.”

“It is a great moment for Japanese Americans but it is also sad that she is the first and only elected JA in the long history of San Francisco,” added Okamoto. “Emily will be a very good school board member and wonderful representative of the JA community.

“As the media has stated, it is the year of the Asian politician with Asian mayors in San Francisco and Oakland,” added Okamoto.

As she announced her victory to supporters via e-mail in November, Murase was already looking toward the future.

“San Francisco has a truly diverse public education system with unique strengths and challenges,” she told supporters. “I will need everyone’s continued support and ideas on how to make it even better.”

A product of San Francisco public schools, Murase and husband Neal Taniguchi have two daughters in the district’s Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program (JBBP) at Rosa Parks Elementary School, across from the city’s Japantown.

Murase oversees a $3.5 million budget at the Department on the Status of Women and a professional staff of five “to promote the human rights of the women and girls of San Francisco.” Previously, she served in the first Clinton White House as director for International Economic Affairs (1993-1994), after working for AT&T Japan in Tokyo, and later worked in the International Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.

Murase holds an AB in modern Japanese history from Bryn Mawr College, a master’s from the Graduate School of International Relations & Pacific Studies at UC San Diego, and a Ph.D. in communication from Stanford.


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