Mazie Hirono’s journey from underdog to advocate for underserved populations

HEART OF FIRE: AN IMMIGRANT DAUGHTER’S STORY

By Mazie K. Hirono (New York: Viking Books, 2021, 416 pp., $28, hardcover)

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono is a badass. 

Hirono vaulted to national consciousness when she became an outspoken critic of the Trump administration, which she deemed a threat to democracy.

She challenged such policies as family separation of asylum-seeking immigrants, the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, among others. 

Hirono’s comment telling men to “shut up and step up” during the Kavanaugh hearing even went viral, and women supporters started merchandising her words on mugs, T-shirts and bumper stickers.

In “Heart of Fire: An Immigrant Daughter’s Story” — a very personal and honest memoir by Hirono — readers can now learn firsthand why she fights so fiercely for the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, working class families, the poor, the under- and uninsured and the underdog, in general. 

Currently, she is the only immigrant and the first Asian American elected to the United States Senate.

Yet Hirono’s rise to the seat of power wasn’t an easy one. 

She was born in Japan and raised on a rice farm. At the age of 7, her mother decided it was time to leave her abusive marriage. She brought two of her three children to Hawai‘i. The youngest was left with their maternal grandparents. This family separation would leave a lasting emotional scar on Hirono’s younger brother. 

The family initially lived in a boarding house where Hirono’s mother worked two jobs and could ill afford to see a doctor if she got sick or take time from work to rest because if the mother didn’t work, the children didn’t eat. Plus, the family had no health insurance.

A few years later, Hirono’s maternal grandparents would leave the comforts of their home in Japan and join Hirono in Hawai‘i to support the ohana, the family unit. 

In college, Hirono got a taste of politics and decided she wanted to become a public servant in an effort to uplift others. But the political arena was, and still is, a male-dominated field. She was discouraged every step of the way by her male colleagues. 

When she announced that she was running for lieutenant governor, she was told she had no chance since she had no statewide name recognition. She proved the male naysayers wrong and won the seat. Later, one of her supporters told her that she overheard some of the men say that if Hirono could win the seat, then anyone can. For women, it’s always a no-win situation.

Hirono may not have had a lot of backing from her male colleagues, but what she did have was the steadfast support of her grandmother, mother and mother-in-law — all of whom volunteered on her various campaigns. Thus, this memoir is much a tribute to the women who sustained Hirono as much as it is about her life. 

So for every woman who is searching for a role model or needs a bit more courage or inspiration, this book is for you; and for every man, who thought he was progressive enough, this book is worth reading to learn about the daily micro-aggressions that women experience that contribute to the systemic sexism that hinders women from achieving goals men find so easy to pursue. 

As for Hirono, who is now in her seventies, she does not appear to be slowing down soon, and we, as a nation, are better and stronger because of that. Gokurosan, senator!

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