A Tale Of Two Students, Two Americas
In the early 1970s, I was a Ph.D. candidate and an instructor in the American Studies Department at the Uni Most of my duties involved lecturing in and leading discussion sections of the introductory course, but several of us were allowed to teach an upper-division offering as well.
I put together something called “American Civilization in the 1920s and ’30s.” Enrolled in the class were about 25 students (memory can’t be exact in an old geezer), including a young woman named Mazie Hirono.
Mazie proved to be an excellent student: bright, quick, industrious — everything that a teacher values in a student. I remember her warm smile and quiet laughter as well.
I also remember her liberal politics, her campaigning for various young Democratic politicians and her boyfriend, who was active in conservation causes.
Mazie decided to pursue law. She claims that I was among those who urged her to go to the Mainland for law school — which she ultimately did, earning her degree at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
In 1980, Mazie plunged into politics, winning a seat in - tatives. There, she proved to be a star. Back then, I wrote columns on “the best and worst” - ture. Those I polled always put Mazie’s name among “the best.”
In 1994, she ran for and won the lieutenant governorship; in 2002, she lost a race for governor; in 2006, she won the first of three terms in the U.S. House; and in 2012, she assumed the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Daniel Akaka.
Donald Trump has brought Mazie national prominence for her much-lauded speech to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. In her speech, she referenced her own preexisting condition: cancer.
More r ecently, Mazie tweeted a response to Trump’s backtracking on his condemnation of Nazi sympathizers, who rioted over the removal Charlottesville, Virginia.
“The President continues to walk back, condemning violence-prone white supremacist groups. It is true that the President does not serve all Americans. Bringing our country together will be up to each of us; he will be of no help.”
Aside from Mazie, I recall another student, one who was born and reared in the rural south, married into the military and who soon found herself relocating to the Islands. She took several classes from me at the University of Hawai‘i at an excellent student — smart, industrious and eager to learn. - erything a teacher values in a student.
She also brought a fresh perspective as a daughter of the South. She was hospitable, warm, possessed a ready smile and pride in her Southern heritage. That heritage included the Civil War and the brilliant generals she grew up idoliz “Jeb” Stuart. Add to that the equally brilliant historian Shelby Foote, whom she adored.
She remains a friend, although I haven’t talked to her about the removal of Confederate statues. My guess, however, is that she would object mightily to it. Those generals, plus politicians like Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun, are part of her Southern heritage.
Her classmates and I learned from her. But as history students and longtime citizens of and post-Civil War southern segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks tainted her heritage. It also taints the statues of those who defended slavery and segregation.
Two students. Two different Americas.
Back in the early ’70s, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono enrolled in the author’s class at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.