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A young girl was raised on a rice farm in rural Japan when, at seven years old, her mother left her abusive husband and sailed with her two elder children to Hawaii, crossing the Pacific in steerage in search of a better life. That young girl would become the first Asian-American woman and the only immigrant serving in the United States Senate.
Senator Mazie K. Hirono joins us to share from her deeply personal memoir, Heart of Fire: An Immigrant Daughter’s Story, which traces her remarkable life from her earliest days in Hawaii to her emergence as a highly effective and passionate legislator. In conversation with award-winning writer and fellow immigrant Viet Thanh Nguyen, Senator Hirono talks about the immigrant experience. She relates how she entered first grade not being able to read or speak English, and her family lived in a single room in a Honolulu boarding house while her mother worked two jobs to keep them afloat. Those beginnings tie directly to her work as a legislator, determined to help the most vulnerable with a purpose that was grounded in her own experiences of economic insecurity, lack of healthcare access, and family separation–fighting hardest to ensure that a story like hers is still possible in this country.
And finally, she explores her emergence from dogged yet soft-spoken public servant into the frank and fiery advocate we see today, describing how she fought for causes she believed in while striving to remain polite and reserved, both because she had been steeped in nonconfrontational cultures and because she was a woman in politics. But in 2016, as she felt the impending force of a dangerous administration and crucial battles with lasting implications raged, Senator Hirono felt called to give voice to the fire that had always been inside her. Don’t miss this compelling and moving account of a woman coming into her own power over the course of a lifetime in public service–and of the mother whose courageous choice made that life possible.
Senator Mazie K. Hirono is a graduate of the University of Hawaii, Manoa and the Georgetown University Law Center. She has served in the Hawaii House of Representatives (1981-1994), as Hawaii’s lieutenant governor (1994-2002), and in the U.S. House of Representatives (2006-2013). She became Hawaii’s first female senator in 2013, winning reelection in 2018. Hirono serves on the Committee on the Judiciary, the Committee on Armed Services, and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, among others.
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and numerous other awards. His most recent publication is the sequel to The Sympathizer, The Committed. His other books are a short story collection, The Refugees; Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award in General Nonfiction); and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He has also published Chicken of the Sea, a children’s book written in collaboration with his six-year-old son, Ellison. He is a University Professor, the Aerol Arnold Chair of English, and a Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, he is also a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and the editor of The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle