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Sen. Mazie Hirono

U.S. Senator

Honolulu, HI

I stand on the shoulders of a woman who risked everything for me: my mother.

While there are a record number of women serving in the Senate, for many women the risks of running for office and entering a traditionally male-driven political arena may seem too great. I know personally how difficult it can be to take that risk and get off the sidelines. I was not born into wealth, power or political legacy and my path to the Senate was improbable as any. I stand on the shoulders of a woman who risked everything for me: my mother.

When I was a young girl living in Japan, my family had little stability or money. My mother endured a terrible marriage at the hands of my father, a compulsive gambler and alcoholic. At times, he would even sell my mother’s belongings to support his habit. But instead of watching our family continue to suffer, my mother made the courageous decision to seek a better life for us. She plotted and planned in secret, and when I was nearly eight years old, we literally escaped to this place called Hawaii and this country called America. My mother, brother and I boarded the President Cleveland in Yokohama and set sail across the Pacific in steerage.

Like many immigrants, our new life was not easy. I began elementary school without knowing a word of English. In the beginning, my mother worked at a Japanese newspaper for minimum wages with no benefits. She worked two jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. We didn’t have much, but we persevered.

My mother showed me by her example that one person can make a difference by taking risks. She changed my life by bringing me to this country. Just as she made the difference in my life, I am working hard to make a difference for others.