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  • Kimberlee Bassford

Patsy Mink memorialized with statue

It was great seeing Patsy Mink's daughter Gwendolyn (right) at the dedication of her mother's statue.

Today would have been Patsy Mink's 91st birthday. Sometimes I think about how the world would be different if Patsy was still here. She always fought the good fought, especially for women and the disenfranchised, and we need fighters like her now more than ever.

That said, I am somewhat consoled that the State of Hawai‘i is finally beginning to give Patsy her due. While there is no airport named after her (despite the fact that she probably effected more changed in our society than any other Hawai‘i politician past or present), there is now a sculpture of her standing on the front lawn of the Hawai‘i State Public Library's main branch in downtown Honolulu.

Today was the dedication ceremony of this new Patsy T. Mink sculpture, and I was honored to have been asked by Patsy's daughter Gwendolyn Mink to speak at the event. As the date approached, however, I was nervous. I knew there would be other speakers, and I didn't want to find myself saying the same things as them. Plus, Patsy was a great orator, able to speak passionately and articulately about anything. What could I possibly say that would add to this historic event?

In the end, I kept it simple. I thought of the sculpture and its location and what Patsy meant to me. Below is the full text of my speech.

Good morning, and mahalo to the Governor and First Lady, State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Hawai‘i State Public Library, artist Holly Young and the Mink, Takemoto and Tateyama families. It’s an honor to be here.

It’s so fitting to see this statue of Patsy Mink on the lawn of the State Library–her outstretched arms welcoming everyone who comes this way. In an article I read about Patsy when doing research for the documentary, I learned that a young Patsy would spend afternoons and weekends perched in trees reading books out loud, her voice ringing out the words of the characters. She grew up on a sugar plantation near Paia, Maui, and I can imagine how books were windows to the outside world for her. They entertained her with adventures, inspired her with stories of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and showed her the vast possibilities of life. Later, she was enthralled with radio programs and specifically FDR’s fireside chats, which created a sense of intimacy with government and instilled trust, connection and a feeling that we’re all in this together.

About 50 years later, when I was a kid, I loved stories and books too. Going to the library for me was like going to a candy store for other kids. I’d come home with stacks of books, excited to dive into a story.

For me and for Patsy, books were essential on the path to knowledge and knowledge and opportunity. Books enrich individuals, making us better understand history, science, literature, culture and the arts–basically the world in all its diversity. Education nurtures the potential in each of us so that we can all contribute our very best talents and advance society forward. At least, it should.

Since very young, Patsy wanted to be a doctor. At some point, I entertained the idea of becoming a doctor too. I even declared “pre-med” on my college applications though later realized that I don’t really like hospitals and doctors’ offices and maybe wasn’t suited for a career in medicine. But the thing is, had I wanted to be a doctor, I knew that I could. Patsy, however, could not.

She was denied admission to every medical school to which she applied, despite her keen intellect and impressive academic record. And while now, as an adult, I clearly see that there are invisible barriers still for girls and women, growing up, I never felt limited by my gender. The vast possibilities of life were open to me. And that’s in large part due to Patsy Mink and others like her who, despite being told no throughout their lives, not only persevered but found ways to change the system and make it more supportive, more just and more inclusive.

Despite being excluded so many times in her life because of her ethnicity, her race and her gender, Patsy Mink stretched her hand out to others. She believed in the story of America–the one she had learned about in her classroom growing up, the one she had read about in books and that we continue to tell our children … that story of a place that welcomes all immigrants and gives those with a dream and a commitment to hard work the chance to be anything they wanted.

She believed in that story, and though she realized that it was not the reality, she spent her life trying to make it so.

So here on the grounds of the State Library, a place filled with books and stories, where kids young and old come to fill their imaginations with possibilities, I’m so thrilled that this sculpture celebrates Patsy T. Mink and more so that it reminds us that we each have a role to play in our collective story–to make our world more equitable, more inclusive and more just.

Thank you.


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