Lecture Description

Patsy Mink (1927-2002), the first woman of color to become a U.S. congressional representative, had a long history of protesting nuclear testing in the Pacific. A third generation Japanese American lawyer in Hawaii, Mink began her legal and political career defending pacifist activists on the Phoenix, a private boat that attempted to sail into a nuclear testing zone in 1958 to protest detonations in the Pacific Islands. After the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty prevented above ground testing, Mink persisted in her anti-nuclear activism against underground testing. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, she was a key critic of the Cannikin test, which detonated a 5 megaton weapon with 400 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb on Amchitka Island, Alaska. Because the testing site was located in one of the most seismically active regions of the world, the detonation had the potential to generate a tsunami that could devastate islands throughout the Pacific, including Japan and Hawaii. In order to obtain U.S. executive branch documents studying the proposed test, Mink organized a group of thirty-three representatives and senators to sue the White House and its federal offices for access to information deemed off-limits for security reasons. The court case, Mink v. EPA, et al. (1973), eventually led to the strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act and set a precedent for public oversight over the federal executive.In fact, Mink v. EPA provided justification for the release of President Nixon’s secret tapes for the Watergate Hearings. Wu’s presentation examines Mink’s anti-nuclear activism in three ways. First, how Mink’s Japanese ancestry and Hawaiian background shaped her understanding of nuclear testing as a Pacific world issue. The U.S. Cold War mindset divided the world between communism and capitalism, with the U.S. alternately disciplining or wooing “third world” countries and peoples for their allegiance. Instead of accepting this either/or framework, Mink emphasized that multiple locales throughout the Pacific Ocean were ecologically connected to one another. Second, Wu frames Mink’s activism within a national context. Elected to the U.S. Congress in 1965, Mink was a key advocate for civil rights and feminist initiatives. She identified with and helped to define a tradition of U.S. political liberalism. For example, she defended civil liberties to protest and set limits on government power. Her personal inclusion into the U.S. polity signaled a larger process of incomplete yet increasing civic inclusion for Asian Americans during the U.S. Cold War. Third, Wu examines how Mink, as an Asian American advocate for Hawaiian statehood and a congressional representative with a particular investment in Pacific Islander trusteeship, positioned herself in relation to indigenous Hawaiian, Alaskan, and other Pacific Islander claims for sovereignty. The furor and fears concerning nuclear testing provided opportunities for alliances as well as divergences between Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This presentation will examine how Mink navigated these complex global, national, and local relationships and positionalities to protest environmental and biological annihilation.


Asian American Women's Rights, Activism, and Suffrage

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