LIHUE — Maryanne Kusaka wants the young women of the community to stand up and be good mothers.
“We need strong mothers in our community,” she said. “Motherhood is really, really important. They leave such an impression and role model on their children.”
On Wednesday, Kusaka, who served as mayor of Kauai from 1994 to 2002, spoke in front of about 20 people about the importance of motherhood, education and perseverance.
She was joined by Abby Santos and Phyllis Kunimura, who were invited to speak at an event hosted by the Kauai Committee on the Status of Women called “Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business” at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall to observe Women’s History Month.
“It’s important for us to honor women who have achieved because so many have been held back for so long,” said Virginia Beck, KCSW member. “It’s important for us to remember the torch-bearers who excelled and didn’t accept ‘no,’ or ‘you can’t.’ They just didn’t listen.”
It’s just as important to remember that most of women’s history is lost, Beck added.
“Many young women today have no idea what happened in the 1960s and 1970s. They are completely oblivious to the freedoms they have because women before them stood up and learned to negotiate to get what they want,” Beck said.
Kusaka, who taught on Kauai for 30 years, credited her mother with shaping her to the person she is today.
“I want to speak about what made the person I have become,” she said. “My mother told me ‘I want you to become something I couldn’t.’”
As a middle school student in Hana, Maui, Kusaka’s teacher, Mrs. Brown, told her mother she needed to get away from Hana.
“My mother was dismayed, but Mrs. Brown said ‘she has too much to offer. If you leave her here, she will get pregnant, have 10 children and live on the beach. You don’t what that for your daughter,’” Kusaka said.
So, after finding the money to send her to another school, Kusaka’s family sent her to Mid-Pacific Institute on Oahu.
“I can remember this argument back and forth at the kitchen table — ‘my daughter needs and education,” she said. “But my father would say ‘oh no, we educate the boys because they have to take care of the women. Daughters don’t need to be educated; they’re just going to be wives.’”
Education was going to be her insurance, Kusaka said.
After graduating from high school, she earned a degree from the University of Northern Colorado.
While running for mayor, Kusaka said she was told she wouldn’t be elected because she was a woman.
“He told me a woman can’t do that job,” she said. “Being a woman, it’s very difficult to take any kind of stand or to be any kind of leader. It doesn’t matter who you know or what you know, it’s because you’re a woman.”