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UTLA's Arlene Inouye Fights On

Arlene Inouye: I was encouraged to go into home economics, and felt the societal pressure to get married at a young age. This led to my vulnerability in being in a marriage and situation where I was further devalued and felt that I was never good enough.
Arlene Inouye

Arlene Inouye as a child

I wrote the message below to family and friends on Facebook after my 70th birthday. I added some additional context to the basic message for the LA Progressive.

I want to thank family and friends for the birthday wishes and support as I enter the next decade. I am thankful that through zoom I could be surrounded by close family- with song, pictures and expressions of love. It is always a treat to see my beautiful 13 and 11 year old granddaughters, as we have struggled through the quarantine together. And an unexpected call from my Mother’s nursing home, where my 98-year-old Mom was holding a happy birthday balloon. When I asked her how old I am, she said “I don’t want to tell”. It was wonderful to see her alert and spunky. I am grateful for my husband, Michael, who did his best to cook throughout the day, and be supportive, as it was another working day for me at UTLA.

Upon reflection I more fully realize that my life has been in three stages, and it has taken me longer than most to bloom. The first stage was from the age of 5 years old, when I decided to try to be the good little girl I was supposed to be. Not realizing the intergenerational trauma of the incarceration during WWII, I took on the model minority myth, white supremacy culture and internalized oppression. When growing up in Los Angeles I was constantly asked “where are you from?”. Saying that I was born in LA wasn’t good enough. I was encouraged to go into home economics, and felt the societal pressure to get married at a young age. This led to my vulnerability in being in a marriage and situation where I was further devalued and felt that I was never good enough. I closed off my heart to survive for 26 years.[metaslider id="341795"]

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But at the age of 47 years old, I left that situation and started the second phase of my life. I made a choice to face the pain and longings from my childhood, worked through fears, to embrace who I am. The freedom and release I felt was overwhelming- I saw flowers and colors for the first time. I was released and free, and this was a time of discovery.

But at the age of 52 years I decided to take action, and to do my part in speaking for those who don’t have a voice, and to fight for racial and social justice. While working as a speech therapist in East Los Angeles, I saw for the first time military recruiters on school campuses lying to students about what it means to enlist. And when war was declared in Iraq, I decided to find others to do counter recruitment work in LA. This led to forming CAMS (Coalition Against Militarism in our Schools) where I was interviewed by Sharon Kyle. I take pride in knowing that I was her first interview and the beginning of their important work. I was amazed to learn that because of the work of CAMS, hundreds of students decided not to enlist after hearing the realities of what they would face. This work continues today in advocating for youth and against militarism (https://www.nnomy.org). It was more than I had imagined. I remember being on a mountaintop when I turned 50 years old feeling that I had lived a great life—and everything after this was the icing on the cake.

Little did I know that the icing would be UTLA. I was called, encouraged and willing to step up to be a union leader at a time when I knew little about it. That was 10 years ago with a team of us who wanted to transform what a union could and must be, a force in this society for change and a movement for racial, educational and social justice. I have been given opportunities to learn and grow, and working side by side with gifted and dedicated people we have experienced and done so much together. We will all never forget the strike of 2019 (in the rain) where our negotiations team spent a week in city hall while we heard the rally below us.

Arlene8

And now at the age of 70 years, I am once again with a team fighting for the safety and health of hundreds of thousands in LA. I couldn’t be more honored and proud. We enter a new phase for UTLA, with a deeper and more expansive role and commitment to the communities in which we serve, the students we love and care about. As they say in Japanese “Gambatte”—fight on, and as a proud union member—“Solidarity Forever” for truly we need both.

Arlene Inouye