By Senhao Liu
Northwest Asian Weekly
From being a teacher to a policymaker in education improvement, Frieda Takamura has contributed much during the past 40 years to the Asian Pacific Islander community.
Born in Tokyo right after World War II, Takamura came to the U.S when she was 18 years old to attend the University of Hawaii. Her father is nisei, the second-generation of Japanese immigrants who lived in Hawaii.
Takamura transferred to the Whitman College in Walla Walla and graduated with an English major. After graduation, she started teaching in a junior high school and also started contributing to the Asian Pacific Islanders (API) community in 1969. In 2008, she retired from the Washington Education Association (WEA) as human/civil rights coordinator.
“There are big but divided groups of Asian communities in Seattle, but civically we are all Pan-Asian,” said Takamura.
“The vibrancy of the Asian community inspired me to get involved.” Takamura said that the inclusive nature of the Asian community in Seattle–as opposed to being separate identities of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese, for example–made her want to contribute to the API community and help empower the people.
Takamura said that she felt there was not much education about Asian history in the U.S., which leads to stereotyping about Asian heritage. She said, for example, that she knows much about Japanese American history due to her identity background, but she did not know much about other Southeast Asian countries.
She spoke specifically about the Chinese experience, when immigrants first came to the U.S. The first generation came here mostly as laborers and their hardworking character contributed to American society. These types of histories of Asian communities were not being taught much in schools. That encouraged Takamura to keep educating others to improve people’s understanding for the next generations.
“Frieda is a champion for kids of color in our state. She holds policymakers accountable by voicing the need to involve communities in the decision-making,” said Michael Itti, executive director of Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, and a colleague of Takamura.
Takamura said that before she retired, she was involved with a program to research bullying in schools. She said that API students were disproportionately bullied in schools compared to Anglo students, and she and her colleagues were working on policies to deal with the issue on the state-level. They worked with the legislature to make policies to help empower API students.
“Public schools did not really give equal opportunities for students of color to succeed in schools,” Takamura said.
“Her commitment to community is evident in the way that she advocates for community voice and authentic engagement and as an educator,” said Sili Savusa, executive director of White Center Community Development Association. “I haven’t seen a stronger advocate and champion for kids of color throughout my years as a community organizer.”
When she was a teacher 30 years ago, she didn’t have many API students. But before she left the classroom, Asian students were increasing in number, which inspired her to do things when she went to the WEA to help improve the education opportunities for Asian students. This included recruiting more Asian teachers to help students make more connections in an educational setting.
“When I was teaching, I remembered that Asian students always came to talk to me,” Takamura said. “That really brought to me the importance of having teachers of color.”
She said negative comments toward young people are unfair to them. To help them improve, she said that the public systems should be responsive to their needs and cultures.
“Every contribution I made to my community is far overshadowed by what I obtained from the community,” Takamura said. She says she will stay actively involved with the community and use the rest of her time contributing.
“I never feel bored,” Takamura said. “Ever.” (end)
Senhao Liu can be reached at email@example.com.