Elevate Difference

Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority

As the title indicates, Patsy Mink is the story of a woman of the same name, the first Asian American woman and the first woman of color elected to the U.S. Congress. If her story began and ended there, Mink’s life would have been important enough to have made history. Fortunately for every woman who lives in the world she transformed, Patsy Mink’s story and her life were far greater than that.

Born in Maui, Hawaii in 1927, Mink faced a world where opportunities for people who shared her race and gender were all but nonexistent. During World War II, Mink, a third generation Japanese American, witnessed the internment of her fellow Japanese Americans, faced tremendous wartime discrimination, and watched in horror as her father burned his final connections to Japan and his father. While attending the University of Nebraska, Mink was assigned to the international dorm due to the university’s longstanding segregation policy, and Mink’s 1947 protest of that policy led to its abolition the next year. Denied entry to medical school due to her gender, Mink went on to law school only to be unable to find a job post-graduation, once again due to her race and gender.

Denied a job, Mink went into politics, where she would change the rules that had once prevented her and countless other women from entering medical school and finding a job in the legal profession. Amongst a long list of achievements, Mink's co-authorship of Title IX (now renamed as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act) and authorship of the Women's Educational Equity Act made it possible for generations of women to play sports, attend college and graduate school, work in traditionally male professions, and otherwise move beyond the traditional roles assigned our gender.

At a mere fifty-six minutes, the film named after Mink is filled with stories of accomplishments and obstacles, the former greatly outweighing the latter. Comprised of archival footage, interviews with both friends and foes, and the words of Mink herself, Patsy Mink is a fitting tribute to a woman who chose to be a participant in history, not merely a witness to it. It is well organized and interesting and carefully places Mink’s life within its personal and historic context. The only real problem is that it is far too short, and therefore, offers only cursory coverage of issues that surely deserved more detailed examination. But there are worse things to be said about a documentary than that it leaves you wanting more.

Written by: Melinda Barton, August 5th 2009