THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“My whole life has been one of causes.”
Interviewed by Mary Jean Collins, VFA Historian, October 2021
SF: My name is Shelley Fernandez. I was born Joan Shelley Fernandez in Brooklyn, New York, on October 30, 1930, which means I will be 91 this Saturday. I don’t really discuss much of my ethic background because I’m a mixed background and both sides of my family have a problem. They’ve had a feud going since the early 1900’s. They don’t speak to each other, so I prefer not to get into that. I have one daughter I adopted many years ago. And she was born in 1950, Julia Ramos Fernandez.
MJC: What was your education like?
SF: I went to public school in New York City, and then I got a scholarship to Mills College in Oakland, California. And I graduated from Mills in 1955. Then I went to San Francisco State College, and I got my master’s degree in 1957, plus the teaching credential. And then in 1978, I got a PhD from Walden University. And I’ve done lots of post-graduate at the University of Mexico and Spain, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, many places. I kept up with education. I like school, and I’m currently even studying Japanese, and I’ve been studying it for years.
MJC: Excellent. How did your life intersect with the women’s movement?
SF: I read Betty Friedan’s book. We all did, right? But before that, I had founded a health center called Our Lady of Guadalupe Health Center. I did this because the hospital in the area called Mary’s Help, which now is called Seton, did not have a free clinic. And there were many people who needed it. I was working in the poverty area. I was a teacher and a counselor and bilingual coordinator in Spanish for the whole district, for the county and vice-principal.
I also taught at Stanford University all during the ’70s. I taught Chicano themes when they started the ethnic studies program. When I was the vice-principal, there was an accident in front of the school and the child got hit. And I took him up to the hospital, which is nearby and they would not treat him because he did not have insurance. And he almost died, actually. I got very concerned about that. I had to do an armbar (a judo move) on the doctor.
In addition, when I was a vice principal, I checked out the special education classes in the two schools that I was in charge of. I found out that the children were in there erroneously. They came from Spanish speaking homes and did not know English when they entered school so they were put into special education classes. This disturbed me a great deal and I created a bilingual curriculum for the entire county of San Mateo. The teachers union in Daly City did not agree with me and decided to refute my decision. It was a sad battle because I was fighting the teachers union who wanted everything in English which only meant many children would remain in special education only because they did not know the English language. After a long battle, I finally won and was able to get those students out of special education and into a bilingual school so that they could then attend regular classes after they had mastered English.
I must backtrack. I started judo in 1964. It is martial arts defense and I learned many self-defense techniques. And I had to use this on this doctor in this hospital to get him to treat the boy. And then I did a lot of research and found out that women could not go there for their pregnancies. Nothing could happen. And it was all a poverty area.
This big Catholic Church was sitting on top of the hill with all these poverty people below, by the cemeteries and flower fields and mainly Latino. And I did research and found out that they had received Hill Burton money of $6 million and a contract saying they wouldn’t practice racial discrimination and that they would have a reasonable amount of free care.
And I brought them to Ecclesiastical Court and also arranged a mass that took 200 families watching up the hill singing to the tune of “We Shall Overcome” and “Sisters, Please Come Down and Pray with Us” and all that. So finally, we won. Meanwhile, I found that Daly City had been given the old jail house and the records said it belonged to the city of Daly City for a dollar a year.
I got all of these families, blue collar people there to clean up this jailhouse. We got it. And we turned it into the Guadalupe Health Center. We forgot about Mary’s Help because they were not doing anything anyway. And that’s the thing I said in the newspapers. The headline said “Fernandez says Mary’s Help should change their name because Mary isn’t helping anybody.” The funny thing is, they eventually did change their name to Seton – kind of strange. But anyway, we cleaned it up and started our clinic there. And I realized that women had not gotten any care at all in that whole town.
That was a little before I got into the movement. At the same time, I then found out that the women, aside from not getting any care, nobody was paying any attention to them, their husbands or whatever, that sort of thing. So that got to me, really, I think that’s when it started. But before that, I can tell you what I did in New York before I got to this point.
When I left home in New York, I was just a little over 16. Because at that time, World War II ended and the soldiers were coming back. And we had double sessions at my high school. They called it Rapid Advance. I went from seven to noon and noon to five so I was able to graduate early. And then I told my father I wanted to go to college. And he said, no woman in this family will ever go to college. I left home with $11 in my wallet.
You could read about that in the October 2021 issue of Noe Valley Voice. I just left and I put my finger on the map and it said California. I applied to three colleges in California and got into all of them. But I chose Mills College, because the person there was a marvelous theater teacher and I wanted to be a theater director. When I left home, I got a job at the Royale Theater on Broadway as an usherette. Meanwhile, I studied with Lee Strasberg, at the Actors Studio as an apprentice there. I also studied directing at the American Theater Wing, and I went to Margaret Webster Shakespeare Company and was the directing apprentice there in the summers and also at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut. Everything was involved with theater.
When I finally got to Mills College, my major was theater directing. And there’s a brilliant man there, Arch Lagerer, who I was very pleased to be able to work with. So that was sort of my time before getting out to college. Meanwhile, after the Guadalupe Health Center, I read Betty Friedan’s book, and I started thinking how to get something going in San Francisco. And I found out there was a NOW movement just starting and I got involved with it. I ended up being the President of the group.
And during that time, I was able then to really concentrate on what was happening with women. I started consciousness raising groups. And one woman came, and she said that her father had beaten up her mother all through the marriage. And eventually stabbed her in the heart, threw her out the window and killed her. And he only got two years in prison for a crime of passion. Then I asked all the women there, over 100 in the group, how many have ever been battered or have your mothers been battered and 23 hands went up.
So that’s when I decided that I had to do something. I was founder of the first shelter for battered women in the United States called La Casa de Las Madres. It was in a home that I owned, and we took in the mothers and their children. And we had lots of problems with the Police Department because they refused to come when we called them. But finally, in the third week of operating, the wife of one of the police officers who was running for office came to us all battered. She had a ruptured spleen and a black eye.
I ran down to the Police Department, and I said that I was going to expose this, have a public press conference unless they took training. My only condition was they had to take training. They had to go around the house once every night and they would bring the women to a place that I designated, a hospital lobby. And they did. Because they didn’t want all that publicity. And La Casa de las Madres is still going. And so that was my first really big involvement as the San Francisco NOW President.
And then at that time, I decided to think about the national board, and I was able to get on the national board serving two terms. And during that time, I worked on many things. The Grievance Committee, the International Committee with Patricia Hill Burnett. I worked on the ordination of the first eleven Episcopalian women. I was on all kinds of committees there. The ERA is very important, of course, I worked on that, worked on abortion rights, all those things. At the same time, I was also in my professional life.
As I told you earlier, I also worked at the Actor’s Workshop in San Francisco as a theater assistant director to Herb Blau, who eventually moved to New York to be with the Lincoln Repertory Theater. But anyway, my main interest then became women’s rights. And I led many demonstrations, one on pornography that they were trying to put into residential neighborhoods, demeaning women, and I had a big battle with that. And then I debated Phyllis Schlafly on national TV. And got everybody kind of really going with the women’s movement.
MJC: And you stayed active in NOW for how long?
SF: All through the ’70s. My term was over at NOW, but I kept on in my own way. For example, I took the San Francisco Police Department to court because there were no women on the police force. (They really had problems with me). There were none in the Fire Department either. They were all white and there were no minorities. I did a class action suit, which is all recorded with the NAACP, Chinese for Affirmative Action, La Raza Latino organization, and the women’s organization. And we won the case. And so that is why the Police Department is all integrated.
And the Fire Department gave in. We didn’t have to go to court with them because they realized they would lose. They also integrated. And the two women who were first connected with the Fire Department were from my judo school. I also at that time, started a judo and defense school with Keiko Fukuda, who was the highest in the world in judo, the only woman who has 10th degree, who lived with me for 47 years. We started this together, and she died eight years ago when she was two months short of 100. And she did judo up to the time of her death. She was very famous. I’ve gotten all of her things to the archives at Schlesinger Library and working on getting her things into a museum as well.
MJC: Was the self-defense work, the judo work related to your feminism?
SF: Yes. Because ours is the only school in the country that’s women only. And we worked with women who had been raped and women who had been assaulted. There were eight nurses at the UCSF, a hospital clinic, who had been raped by somebody. The nurses would leave, go to the garage and this guy would just grab them and they’d freeze up. We did a class for all the nurses over there. In fact, most of the women who were raped were in the class.
And we decided to keep the judo school strictly women, for that reason. The feminist part of the movement worked a lot through judo and martial arts and keeping up with the shelter, keeping up with the health center, and also leading demonstrations, talking up the ERA and Roe v. Wade and all that.
MJC: That’s a lifetime of work. And it goes on.
SF: Yes. Over the past six years, I’ve been to India five times. I have 15 schools for the girls who are the “untouchables.” Keiko and I started a foundation called the Keiko Fukuda and Shelley Fernandez Judo and Self Defense Foundation for Girls and Women. And through that we raise money. We pay for the judo uniforms, the mats, the teachers’ salaries. And I was able to make a connection in India through a student of mine in school here in San Francisco.
And that’s been going on for six years now. It stopped for Covid. Hopefully it’ll start again. India is still very bad with Covid, but I have been there five times and talking with the principals and convincing them. I don’t know if you saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Remember the garbage dump and all that. I go out there and I convince the parents to let their girls come to judo. Because the schools made it that in PE, the girls had a choice between judo and regular PE.
And the first 30 that signed up at every school got judo and they are making great progress, even though there’s tremendous prejudice in the caste system. But I’ve been able to get them into some tournaments, which was really almost impossible. But the head of the big judo school there, which doesn’t let in any the of lower caste, now said that maybe they’re going to consider it since these girls have been watched by them and are doing so well. And the teachers come from the big judo school. So that’s a big accomplishment right there if you know anything about India.
MJC: Feminism in the reality of judo, teaching these young women, judo. Please talk about how it affects their lives if you would.
SF: I’ll give you a couple of examples. I did a video film asking these girls, why do you want to take judo? And the first girl said, I want to be able to protect my mother from my father’s beatings. That’s enough for me to get the whole thing going. The second one was this girl who came forward and talked to us and said her brother was always trying to get on her sexually. There’s a lot of incest there, and she was only eleven and he was like 14.
She came home one day and she just learned this throw. It’s called Seoi Nage. It’s an over the shoulder throw and very fast. She told us that she came home and her brother tried to get on her sexually, and she suddenly did the throw very fast. And these girls are very submissive, very quiet in the lower class, and he got hurt. He was on the ground and she had the guts to say to him, “if you try that again, I might kill you”. And she said he was in such shock; he hasn’t touched her since. And it’s been a couple of years. So that in itself makes it work. And that is why.
MJC: Yes, that is a beautiful explanation of the impact that it has on people’s daily life, even young girls. Has your judo school been closed?
SF: It was closed for 18 months. It reopened September 7, 2021. And I have a new project now with Native Americans. I’m very concerned. When we talk about race in our country, we leave out the Native Americans. And one of the women on my board of directors of this foundation is Nedra Darling. She was the person that I worked very hard to get on the national board, if you remember. She was the youngest we ever had on the board and the first Native American and Nedra and I have remained close since that time.
She’s in her late 60’s now and since she was 18, we have been very close. And we are arranging now to go to the Native American community. In my dojo, which is what we call the judo School, we will be taking all Native American girls and women in San Francisco from the community center. It’s free for them to go to my dojo. They don’t have to pay any tuition. We will supply the uniforms and everything else.
And the same is happening with a friend of mine who has a judo school in Oakland, who went to India with me. She is doing the same there. Plus, Nedra is trying to arrange it with three reservations, so that we could have judo on the poverty reservations, not the ones with the casinos. We are working very hard on that. That’s a work in progress.
MJC: Your history is very diverse and more than feminism is generally thought to be in that period of time. Could you talk about the diverse communities that you reached?
SF: Yes, I took time out. I took a two year leave of absence when I was the vice-principal and I directed the American Heart Association, San Francisco, the CPR Project for minorities in the San Francisco area. I’ve been on many boards of directors, I can tell you that. I did a lot of work with women. For example, I was the President of CURAS. CURAS means Community United in Relation to Sida. Sida is AIDS, and this is in the 80’s. I also was on the board of Shanti Project, which was the local board about AIDS.
San Francisco had a big problem with AIDS, but CURAS was to support the women married to Latino men. The women were getting AIDS, and they couldn’t figure out why. Why were they getting AIDS? And we figured out why, which I don’t want to go into; it is a little too graphic. But we worked with the women who were dying faster than the men. That was a very important organization for me to be with. I was also involved with Hermanos Latinos, which had to do with women and taking note of what’s happening to their children in schools, because none of the women would ever come to any of the PTA meetings and things like that.
We also worked at teaching them English and getting them to try to understand, although we couldn’t get them totally into the women’s movement in terms of joining NOW. I can tell you one funny story. One of the women had a problem with her child. He was terrible in school, and he never changed his clothes and he had a behavior problem. His teachers were always very upset. He came and finally I told him, “You have to go home. I’m going to take you home. You have to change your clothes. You have to start to behave.” This is when I was on the NOW National board. And he said, “Oh, no, you don’t want to take me home.”
I went to his house and it’s a Latino family and everyone is talking. And I went in and there were diapers loaded on the floor and the woman was eating chocolate, watching the TV and all this. And I started to tell her about NOW and all this. And she said, “Oh, really?” She said, “Look at that.” And she points to a big poster that NOW had put out with a woman with a broom that said, “Fuck Housework.” I was stunned. She said, “You talk about all this?” I thought that was very funny.
I did get a lot of women involved in that community. There were a minority of whites, actually, but it was black and Latino, but they did get involved in talking with me and joining the Hermanos Latinos. That was pretty important. I was on an organization board of a book bank that sent books all around the world, for women and men. I was on the board of directors of the Women’s Institute for Mental Health. In fact, I got the name changed to the Iris Center, and I worked on getting women in who had been having little problems. We have a lot. So that’s a feminist thing, for women only.
I was on the Girls Scouts board. That’s also feminist, right? But that gives you an idea. My whole life has been one of causes, and the only time it stopped, but it didn’t really, was when I had to have my two hip replacements recently. But then I started in with the Native American project. My whole life is causes. And I haven’t had truly enough time to know myself really. But I feel that what I’ve been doing is somehow important.
MJC: Would you say feminism inspires all the aspects of your life?
SF: Yes. For example, in 1976, I gave testimony. I went to the tribunal and crimes against women. It was in Belgium, and I gave testimony. There’s a whole book of the tribunal. Diana Russell was the one who put it together. She was a feminist here in San Francisco. I gave testimony on battered women there. Anytime I hear something that’s going to be about women or caring about them, I have gotten involved as best I could do.
MJC: Do you also do the fundraising for all these projects?
SF: Yes, I do as a matter of fact. Actually, this will sound very strange, but there’s a big book called the Grant Book. I haven’t looked at it lately because we have all this high tech, so it’s probably not even happening now. But through all the years, I would go through every single thing in the grant book and try to relate it to something that I was doing. Then I would contact the estates based on what the book said.
And many have never even thought about the things I was proposing. But they gave money. And then I went to HEW with the Guadalupe Health Center, when the nuns wouldn’t start the health center up at the hospital and we got the jail and everything. I took a woman with me. Not knowing you have to go through protocol here in San Francisco, I went right to HEW in Bethesda, Maryland, and took this woman whose daughter had been refused help. This was a very poverty family.
The daughter was brought up convulsing and they said, just give her orange juice and aspirin. Just like the boy that had the accident who I mentioned earlier, who had his ear taken off. They had no insurance. They were told to go to the county hospital, which is 22 miles away. They can’t go to San Francisco, which is much closer, right across the border, because it’s a different county. I had to work on all of those things. I raised money.
We left HEW. I knocked on every door I could. I finally found one sympathetic person and we walked away with over $200,000 to start. So that was from HEW. And nowadays I just try very hard at going places and churches, wherever I can to talk about raising money. It’s not easy to raise money, though.
MJC: Well, now you have such a reputation and a history of successful projects that it makes it a little easier I’m sure, even though each generation has to be educated again about what the problems are and what needs to be happening. Is that correct?
SF: One of the things is I was assistant director of the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews, which was getting Jews out of the Soviet Union. At that time, it was back in the 60’s and 70’s, and I did go to the Soviet Union and get people out. And it’s funny, because when I had to go to rehab one time, I ran into some of the people I’d gotten out of the Soviet Union here in 2017 or 2018, whenever it was, that I’d known back in the 70’s.
I spent a lot of time in Cuba. I’ve been to Cuba nine times bringing medicine to Cuba. There’s no medicine there. I actually was able to get a van and go across the country of Cuba and bring medicine through a friend of mine who lives there. I’ve taken tourists there, and the only thing I say is, we do not discuss politics, period. We just are there for humanitarian reasons, things like that.
MJC: There’s hardly a subject or a community that you haven’t had an impact on.
SF: I think it’s all due to my judo experience and to living with Keiko.
MJC: Please tell us about her.
SF: It started like this. My first job was teaching Spanish, and I had a student in my class. This is in the 1960’s, and I gave homework four nights a week and a test on Friday. She would get an A on the test and never do the homework. I said, “Why can’t you do the homework?” She said, “Oh, I have to go to judo.” “What’s judo?” I never even heard of it. She said, “Just come and watch.” Well, I watched and I thought to myself before I went, I don’t know what this is, because when I was at Mills College – and I hate to admit this – I could not get into the honor society, although I had mostly A’s and B’s, because I had one D. Guess what it was in? PE!
I could not pass the swimming requirement. They had a swimming requirement to graduate. They all tried to teach me and I couldn’t. They said I was not coordinated. They gave me a D, which should have been an F. And I said to myself, this would be interesting. I went and watched the judo class and the teacher said, “Why don’t you come up and try?” I said, “I couldn’t possibly do it, I’m not into sports like that.” Although I did work on Title IX, but I wasn’t into sports myself.
And they said, well, it’s an art. It’s a science. I said, really? I got up and tried and I got so hooked on it. I got so hooked that I changed my Spanish class to a conversational Spanish class since I had no time to grade the papers. We just had conversational Spanish, and I think they learned a lot more. Meanwhile, two years later, this woman from Japan came on a tour of the Judo Association. And we were fascinated because she was very tiny, petite, feminine, no physical strength. But she could throw you across the room.
I thought this would be very interesting. I called Mills College and said, “I’d like to do a demonstration in judo. Maybe Mills should teach judo because of the women there, it’s a woman’s college.” Again, a feminist thing. They said, “You? That’s impossible.” Well, Keiko and I got hold of the Samoan Men’s club out here and they were big guys. We went out there to Mills, and we did this demonstration and she was throwing all these big guys around. They came at us with guns and chains, and I loved it.
Then, the head of the Department said to Keiko, who really didn’t know English at the time, she said, “I want to offer you a job teaching judo here.” She said, “If you can teach Shelley, you can teach anybody.” Those were famous words, because all those teachers had given up on me. Then I had the problem of getting her to stay in this country because she’d just come on a couple of months tour. And you should watch the movie, a documentary called Mrs. Judo. It’s on Amazon Prime. It’s the life of Keiko. I am in it, all through it, because I was her assistant. And I mentioned the women’s movement and things I’ve done in the women’s movement in the movie. I hope you get to watch it.
I had the problem of trying to get Keiko to stay here in this country. And of course, they had a quota on Asians. Only 123 Asians a year were able to stay. And I was living at the immigration office trying to figure it out. And they said, there’s no way, she has to go back. And I said, well, there’s got to be another way. Then one man took pity on me, and he said, there is another preference. You may recall preferences is how you get to stay in the country. He said, no one’s ever invoked it but if you’re one of a kind and vital to the defense of the United States, it may work.
I said, that’s it! I took Keiko to all the Sheriff Departments, Fire Departments, the Police Departments, to the US Naval and Army bases. And we taught judo there. And they all signed this petition. We had over 2000 signatures, and she got her green card. And that was really a major thing. And then five years later, she became an American citizen. And then we started our own judo school, which is still going. Then I started trying to learn Japanese. And she was very disciplined with learning English and her notebooks where she would copy a word, make a sentence, read the paper, then speak. I mean, she was an amazing person, but she was also very harmonious.
She taught me a lot of patience, because I was sort of a firecracker type. And she would always say, “Calm down.” Then she’d calm me down. And then I was able to actually do things in a better way. She helped me a lot that way. And I learned how to work with adversarial people as well. For example, I told you about the nuns at the hospital. When we finally got our own clinic with the money from HEW, I decided we should have two nuns from the hospital on our board. And my own board said, “You’re crazy. We’ve had all this trouble with them.”
And I said, “No, it’s better they come on our board because I still want to hold them to free care.” It said a reasonable amount of inpatient care and no racial discrimination in the monies that they got from Hill Burton. I went up there and they were in shock too. But they came on the board. They ended up starting a little free clinic up there. And they also would have meetings up there. It really changed things around a lot.
And then in San Francisco, with the abortion and Roe v Wade, there were women who were supporting Phyllis Schlafly. And they were always calling me names and trying to put the city against what we were trying to do, equal rights and everything. But finally, on the pornography thing in the residential area, we went to the city hall meeting and they were there, this group of awful women. And I said to my board members, “I’m going to go and talk to them.” And they said, “You can’t talk to them. They’re calling us filthy names all the time and making life miserable for you.”
I said, “No, on this pornography issue we agree.” I went over and they were shocked when I started talking to them. They said, “Why don’t you come and join our protest demonstration?” And from then on we were talking to each other with our first names and it was always calm. It was never all that anger anymore. And we agreed to disagree on certain things. But we talked in a calm way. Things like that. Keiko helped me a lot with that. She could never have done all that if she stayed in Japan. Talk about treating women badly. That’s the place. I discovered she had been a fifth-degree. You see, when you get a black belt, there are ten degrees. They stop women at the fifth. She had been a fifth-degree for 30 years.
She’s supposed to move every ten years and I got very upset over that. And I arranged a whole bunch of meetings with the petitions from all the judo associations. Then Kodokan, which is the judo place in Japan, finally awarded her a 6th degree, and then finally 7th, 8th and 9th. And they still have not awarded her 10th degree. She got 10th degree from all the rest of the world, all the other judo associations. But they said, “No, no women.” And the reason they gave was only one reason. She’s a woman. I’ve been to Japan a couple of times on my way to India talking to them. Even though she’s gone now, they could do it posthumously.
And when I asked them with the fifth degree, why they couldn’t. When I went to the judo place, I said, why can’t you give her 6th degree? I presented the petition. Their answer was, oh, not this. That means she’s a woman was the answer. That’s something I’m still working on with them to still try to get her attention. But anyway, she taught all over the world. People hold her in very high esteem. She is on Facebook and Google. You can see all the things that she’s done. There’s somebody who was a true feminist without being involved, the way I was with all the movements. She was just judo. But she was more of a feminist than most people I know because she started the first judo school and taught women all over the country. She was amazing.
MJC: Your strategies were very complementary. And you enhanced each other’s work.
SF: Absolutely. We came from totally different cultures. It was a good combination. I’m still going to grief support over it. I can’t get over losing her. She left the planet eight years ago. That was very hard for me.
MJC: What haven’t we talked about that we need to talk about in this interview?
SF: I started the first Hadassah group, which is the hospital in Israel, in Cuba because of their medical problems. I was trying to think of what group supports women in health issues. It totally was Hadassah. I got them all involved in Cuba. It’s kind of interesting because they’re basically anti-Israel in a lot of their political attitudes, but they do have that. So again, it’s working with the adversarial.
I haven’t been able to realize my own personal dream, which was to be a theater director on Broadway in New York. Because at the time that I was growing up, there were no women doing that. And I went into teaching. But in a way, I’ve become a director in that I’ve directed, founded, lead, many things like that. That’s all I could think of doing. For example, when I taught at Stanford, it was kind of interesting. I taught Chicano themes. They took poverty kids on scholarship from different ethnic groups. And I taught three classes, one in Spanish, one in English and one mixed bilingual.
And there was a young woman in the class. She was 18, from Texas, very intelligent. We talked about a lot of things and years later, which was like in 2000, I was at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I was at a workshop because I was very involved with the Episcopal Church. I was at this workshop and I got bored and I decided to see what was going on next door. They had a Spanish workshop, and I walked in there, and a woman threw her arms around me. I didn’t know who it was. She said, “Dr. Fernandez! You changed my life!”
And she had on a priest collar. And it was this girl that had been 18, and she had heard about the ordination of the women and because of that, she was a priest and that made me feel really good. A lot of it filtered down through the years. Being in the women’s movement, originally being involved with NOW, really changed my life. I was on the board of VFA, but only for about a year. I don’t know what happened there, but I would have liked to have been on longer.
But my time at NOW was probably the most important thing for my future life. And realizing the struggles that we as women have. My own, starting with my father telling me, “No woman will go to college,” right from then. But I didn’t realize it was going to take me that far into it. But getting to know the women in NOW and seeing all that they were doing in the different cities, other than those they were from, really impressed me that there was real caring and wanting to help women; not just care, but action, making people accountable.
Even now, we have the problems. We still haven’t passed the ERA, which is terrible. One thing I am very disturbed about is that NOW has not been doing much lately. The women’s movement has kind of died out here in San Francisco. There’s nothing going on. I’m going to be 91 on Saturday. I don’t know if I can do anything to get it revived. It really should be the younger women doing something. But what I’ve noticed about young women today, and I see a lot of them at my judo school, is they don’t connect themselves with other women.
I think it’s very upsetting. The only way I can deal with it now is through self-defense, and judo. But the movement itself, I don’t know whether you feel that way or not, but it seems to have dissipated a lot. And people are too into themselves. People are too into high tech. They don’t want to have that involvement that we had when we were on the board.
MJC: Yes, I think we were blessed to be in a unique period that gave us an opportunity to become ourselves, a new self and also to make a contribution. And that opportunity is still there. But people don’t often see it in the same way as we did.
SF: All in all, I would say until my last breath, I will do all that I can to help women. I know I won’t be remembered much, but I would like Keiko to be remembered for her life. Because most of us when we die, that’s it. But I would like for her to be remembered, because she has not been recognized enough as a feminist. But she is a true feminist and we should study more about her life. Thank you very much for asking me to be interviewed. I really appreciate it. It’s a time for me to say what I wanted to say and if it helped in any way, I’m really happy.
MJC: The work of individual feminists like yourself needs to be remembered and become a model for others to follow. I really appreciate your time today. I feel blessed to be able to see you again. Thank you.