My Story: Understanding the needs of many, drawing on the experience of one
by Congressman Mike Honda
As a member of Congress, it is imperative that you understand the needs of all of the people you represent – not just the ones with similar life experiences to your own. As the representative of the only minority-majority district in the lower 48 United States, I have always drawn on my experiences to help me understand those of others, making me an effective leader for my constituents.
I have always been a fighter for equality, civil rights, social justice, and improving our transportation and education systems. In the 14 years I’ve been in the U.S. Congress, and going back further in my years of public service in San Jose as an elected official and an educator, I’ve not only stood up for the issues I care about, I’ve tried to build bridges and make connections between different communities. Building first the Tri-Caucus in the Congress with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and later expanding it to include the LGBT Equality Caucus, I’ve seen what’s possible in bringing different constituencies together to unleash our collective power in common cause. Making these connections allows me to build coalitions and open windows to advocate for issues that affect more than one group, such as immigration. While one might not logically make the jump between ethnic minorities and the LGBT community, both groups face overlapping challenges when it comes to navigating our immigration policy. I was able to reach out to my colleagues and was able to ensure that LGBT immigrants were included in the immigration bills we were debating in 2009 and 2010.
As a Japanese American whose family was interned during World War II and later went on to serve in the Peace Corps in El Salvador, moving in and between different communities is not new for me. Expressing my commitment to public service in environments from San Salvador to San Jose has allowed me to value diversity not just as a buzzword, but to really live my truth in ways that pushed me to walk in other peoples’ shoes. I like to think that by fighting for issues like equality and justice, I’m helping people live in their truths and be their authentic selves.
Now that I’m growing older, the issues that people my age are facing are more real to me and are now a bigger part of my truth. I’ve always fought for Social Security and the need to support people as they age, but now that I’m 73, I look around at my peers, friends, and colleagues, and realize just how important it is that we have the benefits we worked and paid for to ensure our quality of life… even as we grow nearer and nearer to that point. . As a grandfather, I am now more invested in fighting for the future for all my grandchildren so that the world they inherit will be better than the one we got from our forebears. As my granddaughter and her family move through her experience as a transgender person, the work I’ve done to support to the LGBT community and becomes more real when I look at her do cartwheels in the playground.
Of course, there is still much work to be done, and I’ll be here, in Congress, fighting for the issues I hold dear and that will make concrete improvements of the lives of my constituents. But as I add on a few years, I hope the wisdom I continue to gain by supporting different communities and different movements will remain an important tool in the work I do.