Thursday, March 25, 1999

Teach youth about
civil rights, urges
commission leader

Kids perpetuate discrimination
based on gender and race 'because
they hear adults say it'

By Susan Kreifels


At a recent forum called "Girl Power," the problem became clear to Allicyn Hikida Tasaka: Many young people in Hawaii don't understand civil rights nor the long battles fought to get them. And adults must do a better job of teaching them.

Several high school girls said at the University of Hawaii forum earlier this month that they had experienced daily name-calling and other discrimination based on gender and race.

"But it happens so frequently that they just blew it off," said Tasaka, new executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.

"It's learned behavior. It's acceptable in our society because they hear adults say it.

"It became very clear what our role is:to continue educating our youth and share with them what happened in the '60s. Our youth no longer have a clue about the struggle for equal rights and civil rights."

Tasaka's comments in an interview yesterday came amid legislative debates over bills on hate crimes and sexual and racial harassment.

The Department of Education has also sharpened its definition of harassment after racial incidents involving African Americans in public schools.

She said the community needs more open discussion on civil rights, discrimination and harassment. Focusing on the Hawaiian sovereignty movement is a good issue to teach young people about civil rights and discrimination.

A conservative wave of thinking in the United States, while promoting many important family values, has also set back the civil rights movement of the 1960s, she believes.

Emotional debate surrounding same-sex marriages, for example, has moved away from "making things more equitable."

Tasaka was chairwoman of the status commission in 1994 and is past president of the Japanese American Citizens League's Honolulu Chapter, winning national awards for the organizations under her tenure. She also serves on the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.

She helped spearhead redress for Japanese Americans who were interned, relocated or evacuated during World War II, and played a large role in the successful 1994 lawsuit filed by Hawaii native Bruce Yamashita.

Yamashita claimed the Marine Corps denied him a captain's commission on grounds of racial discrimination.

She started her new job in December in time to prepare for this legislative session.

Bills supported by the status commission that she believes are headed for passage: equal treatment for women in prison, especially in drug treatment programs; gender equity in sports; and long-term care for the elderly, particularly women.

Bills that died: pay equity between men and women, and raising the minimum wage.

Tasaka credited a strong caucus of 17 women out of 76 total legislators for continued state funding of the status commission and for pushing through legislation important to women.

State Rep. Barbara Marumoto, a legislator for 20 years and an internee during World War II, agreed that the community has to be diligent in teaching the young about civil rights.

"Definitely, the front is in education, letting students know what they can do to fight discrimination," said Marumoto, who called Tasaka "a strong feminist who is eminently qualified" for the job.

Marumoto, who noted that women are still far underrepresented in the Legislature, believes the "glass ceiling will eventually give away. Women are just more aware of their abilities."

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