Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

"There Is Always a Struggle": An Interview with Chieko N. Okazaki

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

"There Is Always a Struggle": An Interview with Chieko N. Okazaki

Article excerpt

Note: Gregory A. Prince, a member of Dialogue's board of editors, conducted this interview with Chieko N. Okazaki on November 15, 2005, in her home in Salt Lake City. In addition to her career as an elementary school teacher and principal, she was the first non-Caucasian to serve on any LDS general board (Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association, 1962- 71) and is the first woman to serve on the general level of all three LDS women's auxiliaries. After serving on the Primary General Board, 1988-90, she went directly from that calling to first counselor in the Relief Society presidency (March 31, 1990-April 5, 1997). She died on August 1, 2011, in Salt Lake City of congestive heart failure.

Chieko Okazaki: Inmy meetings with the young women or with the Relief Society women, I'm often really surprised that they do not feel that they can function as women in the Church-not all of them, of course, but many of those who come to me and talk to me. I just keep wondering, "How did they get to that point of feeling like they were not worth anything in the Church?"

Greg Prince: Did you feel that way when you were younger?

Chieko Okazaki: No, not at all! I guess it was because I was raised by my parents, who were really raised by their grandparents, saying that I had a contribution to make in this world. My dad andmy mom-we were sort of on the far side of the track, as far as financial things were concerned. My dad was a plantation worker. I know he only made about $200 a month. At that time, in the Japanese way of life, the oldest son always had to give his money to the parents, and then his parents would give him an allowance for his family. So I just knew, from my earliest childhood, that this was how things would be as long as my grandparents were there. Even as a child, I noticed that.

But my parents told me, "You are not going to have this life. You are going to the university and you are going to become somebody, and you are going to have another way of life, and not this plantation way of life." Even as a child I used to think, "How are they going to do that? It costs to go to a university." One time I asked my mother, "How can I do that?" She said, "You don't need to worry about that. You need to worry about getting there. You be the best student that you can, and do the best you can in school." I said, "Okay, I'll do the best I can, and I'll study hard, and I'll do the work that I've been given."

I went both to the Japanese school and to the English school, and did my best. I was popular in school.When it was time for me to go to the university, I don't know how my mother and father had the money for my tuition, but they did. But I did work for my own personal needs. I worked at Sears, I worked at the Swedish Consulate, and at whatever jobs I could get. And I went to school at the same time. And I did make it.

Then, I discovered-and I write this in one of my stories about "You have to walk in my zori," which means "You have to walk in my slippers," to understand what my life was like. A few years ago, I thanked my mom for having given me that education and helping me to get to school. She said, "It was a family effort, you know." I said, "What was the family effort?" "Your two brothers and Dad and I made slippers." They sold those slippers for fifty cents a pair, and yet on the market they would probably be $2.50 or $3.00. She said, "We saved the money from those slippers, and that was your tuition." I just cried.

Greg Prince: You'd known nothing about this?

Chieko Okazaki: I didn't know anything. She didn't say anything to me. But I remember going back at Christmas and helping them do this. My two brothers would scrape the leaves and take the thorns off, then dry the leaf and roll it. My dad would cut it into the size of the slippers and weave it, andmy mother would sew the leaf on the pad. It was hard work. I cried when she told me. My father had died many years earlier, but I also thanked my brothers, and they teased, "Oh, you don't know how many cuts we had on our hands from the thorns. …

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