Sarah Wong

The Stony Brook School | Stony Brook, NY | 9-12th Grade

Inspirational Family Member
My Mother

My family has never really been political, so even though my grandparents immigrated to the US from Hong Kong they never took part in any sort of election. The first voters in my family, then, were my parents. Therefore, the first voter who was a woman was my mom—-Emily Cheng. At the age of twelve, she came overseas to Chinatown in New York City. There she went to Brooklyn Tech for high school and later graduated from Stony Brook University, where she met my dad.

As a child, she was very poor and it was difficult for her to part ways with her life in Hong Kong to live in an unknown land. She once told me that she had a suitcase full of contact lists of her friends and other valuables. On her flight over to America though, the suitcase got lost and she was left with no way of reconnecting to her friends. My mom settled into her new home which was too small for a family of six. Now, she was in a new environment with new people with a different language. She had learned the basics of English when she was younger such as A B C D, but it was definitely different than learning the language itself—the grammar and rules.

From what I know of my mom, she is always determined and if she believes in something, she will do anything even in discomfort. She is probably the most selfless being I know. As for voting, she’s not the most passionate about it because she was never raised in an environment where this was so important. However, through this project, I can now help her to see the importance and motivation behind the many women of the past who were denied the right to vote just because they were not men. I’m sure once my mom discovers the history and devotion of the past, she will become more passionate about this topic and begin to think about who could lead this nation well in the next election.

Historical Figure I Admire

One small, petite woman—Kimura Komako—who was not American, yet as with all the American women at the time, she shared the plea for suffrage rights. It was the year 1917 and women crowded the streets of New York City. Kimura Komako had traveled across the world to join the march with them. At a young age, Kimura was immersed in thoughts of feminism. One of her school teachers didn’t just teach her students to be wives or mothers, she wanted them to explore themselves and their interests. As a result, Kimura grew up in a very open and welcoming environment where she was taught that women could do what they wanted. This was put into action because when she was fourteen she escaped from an arranged marriage and later even eloped with a doctor.

The older she became, the spark of women’s rights grew more and more fiery. She pursued it by co-founding The Real New Women’s Association. In addition, she edited the first magazine which argued that women had as many rights as men, and Kimura was the first woman ever to speak publicly about such a challenging topic in Japan. Tokyo’s streets were the home of her suffrage meetings until the government denied her anymore gatherings. Her fame, nonetheless, stirred more action around the time she became an actress. At the time, Japan would suppress even basic rights of women, but Kimura chose to risk her life by voicing her opinions especially through her theater performances. However, not everyone was appreciative of the aggressive roles she portrayed and the message behind them. As a result, opposition arose. In return, she opened her theatre to anyone free of charge. However, she was arrested and put on trial, but the eloquence in her defenses and her clever nature rescued her.

Kimura went against everything that society standardized for a woman. She did not accept her arranged marriage nor the threats she faced from the government to close her theater. In fact, she continued to push their limits, soon extending the boundaries for all women. She used her talents and fame—-or infamy—-in selfless ways that reflected the hearts and voices of all undervalued women. Then, by traveling to New York, she participated in the march for women’s suffrage and sought help in learning how to fund Japanese suffrage pursuits as well. Newspaper articles were written about her in New York exclaiming the extent of Kimura’s determination, especially to travel across the world for suffrage rights. One article wrote, “This little bundle of bravery, energy, genius and true womanhood (in her desire to better conditions for her fellow-women) is a mite of a woman only four feet eight inches tall” (Daily Herald).

Shortly after her journey to America, the 19th Amendment was ratified. Still, voting rights were not given to all women in America. Prejudices stood against racial background and culture, so that only until 1945 were Japanese-Americans given the chance to vote. Yet, the inspiration of Kimura Komako affected the suffrage rights of women in America and Japan.

What the Project Means to Me

This project helped me dive deeper in understanding the diligence of the women who fought for the rights that I have now. I used to pass lightly over my rights as a woman, never knowing the significance of their history. Yet, after doing my research, I’m becoming more appreciative of everything that was done and I will no longer take my suffrage for granted. In fact, I’m looking forward to the time when I will be eighteen and ready to vote. My mindset has improved so much. I’m not going to vote only for the nation, but also for the souls and fighters who were either denied their vote or persevered to gain their vote. Kimura Komako has taught me that hard work really does pay off. After all, she had such an impact on so many people with such a soft voice. For me, I’m also very small and seem insignificant, but with such a work ethic and boldness to face anything even when all odds are against you, there is truly nothing that can stop me. That is what I learned from Kimura Komako and I am sure I will have it with me for the rest of my life. From my mom, I have learned to be passionate about many things, especially good things and to pursue them. Despite the fact that my mom currently is not passionate about voting, I am and if that is one of my passions, I will go for it. This project has made even clearer that my voice, my opinions, and my interests matter.

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