Catching a Mirror riff: Letters and civics

I occasionally view the Federal Way Mirror as a source of opportunity, much like musicians have spoken of: Where you catch a set of notes or a phrase, then see if you can take a little run down the block with them on your own.

Today’s set of notes have been ably provided in past issues by editor Andy Hobbs (“Internet dilutes that human touch,” Aug. 13) and local columnist Walter Backstrom (“Civics classes would enrich our children,” March 17).

The keyword in Hobbs’s piece was “letters,” while the key pair of words in Backstrom’s was “civics class.”

Geek that I am, it’s a combination of both that played a significant role in my life, starting with my introduction to politics as a seventh-grader at C.W. Sharples Junior High in Seattle — courtesy of my then homeroom and Social Studies teacher, Wayne Angevine.

Angevine was not cut from ordinary cloth. A copy of a blog I posted about him last year is stored online at http://bubblingwateratpinaceaevillage.blogspot.com/ and is titled “Former State Legislator Turned Seventh Grade Teacher in 60s Ignited Interest in Civic Participation.”

If not for Angevine, I would never have written a fan letter in 1968 to my then-presidential candidate of choice, Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey. I was so excited to get even a form letter from his office that I have kept what’s left of it to this very day.

Civics, history and social sciences became my favorite subjects, aside from art. And I was a girl from an old-fashioned ethnic community that discouraged public input by admonishing: “The nail that stands up is hammered down.”

After my folks moved to the west side of Redmond, I ended up in Jake Rufer’s American Government class as a senior at Lake Washington Senior High. Part of class curriculum included an option to receive extra points by attending a certain quota of local city council meetings.

So there I was, a teen watching members of the Kirkland City Council. They collectively realized that, due to unprecedented demand for open waterfront property, if the council failed to acquire a few of the remaining parcels, an opportunity for future waterfront parks would be lost forever.

Because of their leadership, Kirkland is the lovely waterfront jewel it is today. It was a real miracle if you saw the town when I attended Kirkland Junior High as an eighth-grader — and my generation was privileged to see it all happen.

In the era of the Watergate scandal, I attended journalism school at the University of Washington, continuing to pay attention at what was going on in the city, county, state and federal government. After attending an awards dinner for former UW communications graduate turned Seattle City Council member Dolores Sibonga in 1981, I was moved to write a third letter — which was quickly answered by a friendly and personally signed note.

This led to a short stint with a group called the Asian Women’s Political Caucus, which provided a place where women as Sibonga, Ruth Woo and Sally Kazama gave encouragement, support and mentoring to Martha Choe, Ticiang Diangson, Yuri Takahashi, Teresita and Maria Batayola, just to name a few.

Aside from these luminaries, we were all encouraged, even exhorted to consider going out and getting involved in groups and organizations outside the Asian American communities. That included making ourselves available someday for boards, commissions and posts our parents, grandparents and others were previously discouraged from, hesitant to enter or never dreamed to flag.

As a postscript to my blog about Wayne Angevine, some time after it appeared on the Internet I received a forwarded e-mail from a woman who introduced herself to me as his step-daughter.

Thanks to a friend who saw and e-mailed her a copy of my blog, she had read and enjoyed my post. She wrote the e-mail in hopes that I would receive the news that she would soon forward a copy to her siblings and the actual man himself, now residing in another state with his 70th birthday just around the corner.

“My family is deeply touched by her words,” she wrote. “It reminded me of his enthusiasm and passion for what he believed, capturing the true spirit of the man...It will be a great blessing to him to know he did make a difference.”

Federal Way resident Mizu Sugimura can be reached at mizu.s@comcast.net.

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