From Mazie Hirono, the first Asian-American woman and the only immigrant serving in the U.S. Senate, the intimate and inspiring story of how a girl born in rural Japan went on to become a hero on the left (The Washington Post) - and of the mother whose courageous choices made her journey possible
Mazie Hirono is one of the most fiercely outspoken Democrats in Congress, but her journey to the U.S. Senate was far from likely. Raised poor on her family's rice farm in rural Japan, Hirono was seven years old when her mother left her abusive husband and sailed with her two elder children to the United States, crossing the Pacific in steerage in search of a better life. Though the girl then known as Keiko did not speak English when she entered school in Hawaii, she would go on to hold state and national office, winning election to the U.S. Senate in 2012.
This intimate and inspiring memoir traces her remarkable life from her upbringing in Hawaii, where the family first lived in a single room in a Honolulu boarding house while her mother worked two jobs to keep them afloat; to her emergence as a highly effective legislator whose determination to help the most vulnerable was grounded in her own experiences of economic insecurity, lack of healthcare access, and family separation. Finally, it chronicles her evolution from dogged yet soft-spoken public servant into the fiery critic and advocate we know her as today.
For the vast majority of Mazie Hirono's five decades in public service, even as she fought for the causes she believed in, she strove to remain polite and reserved. Steeped in the non-confrontational cultures of Japan and Hawaii, and aware of the expectation that women in politics should never show an excess of emotion, she had schooled herself to bite her tongue, even as her male colleagues continually underestimated her. After the 2016 election, however, it was clear that she could moderate herself no longer. In the face of an autocratic administration, Hirono was called to at last give voice to the fire that had always been inside her.
The moving and galvanizing account of a woman coming into her own power over the course of a lifetime in public service, and of the mother who encouraged her immigrant daughter's dreams, Heart of Fire is the story of a uniquely American journey, written by one of those fighting hardest to ensure that a story like hers is still possible.
Her grandmother left Japan for Hawaii as a “picture bride” (great background on this: Picture Bride Stories). Like the other “brides” she worked 10 hours a day in the sugar cane fields (while managing meals, cleaning and child birth) and later owned and operated a public bath house. She returned to Japan with her teenage daughter, who eventually became Mazie’s mother. Years later, Mazie’s mother left a bad marriage and brought 2 of her 3 children (Mazie being 7) with her to the country of her birth.
Mazie shares stories of her childhood, how her mother juggled two jobs leaving Mazie and her brother to take care of each other. Later, her grandparents arrived with the 2nd brother and they worked hard as well. Mazie notices and remembers others like her who were unnecessarily embarrassed for being poor. You see her growing observation of the minimization of girls and women and the stereotypes of Asians.
You read of Mazie’s experience working on campaigns and the her considerations before taking on a run of her own. If you are from Hawaii, you will appreciate the back story of Ed Case’s betrayal and his later his attempt to upstage Sen. Akaka, for which he met karma. In this period she gives a candid look at her significant others and the synergies for good and bad of these relationships. She eventually married a dream husband, whom she never thought she would return to after a break up.
What is significant is that Mazie remembers her roots. She often uses the term “public service” to refer to the work she and others do; a term that seems to be lost in the pundit world.
Throughout the book she relates the issues she supports to her life experience. On the Affordable Care Act, she remembers a sister who died without medical care and as a child, worried that her mother, the sole family support would be ill and not treated. On education she thinks of her brother whom her mother could not afford to bring from Japan for 2 years who was also left behind by the public school system.
There is detail on how bills get passed and votes are gathered at the state and federal levels. There are examples from unsung improvements such as workers compensation changes and tourist boosting multiple entry passports for Hong Kong residents to the big issues such as how a daring question resulted in recruiting a vote against Brett Kavanaugh from Alaska which shares an indigenous population.
Parts of this book will be of interest to political readers. Those interested in the whole story will be readers in and from Hawaii.
I have always admired Senator Hirono, so I was eager to read her memoir. The story is powerful. I particularly enjoyed the tales of her early family life and how she gradually and mindfully moved up from State office and attained her Senate seat. She vividly recounts her most poignant legislative actions. These include her pointed questioning during the Kavanaugh hearings and the former guy’s two impeachments. She is ever the outspoken advocate.
(Thank you Edelweiss for an advanced copy of this book)
THIS book... it was an amazing look into an Asian American, daughter of an immigrant story. To begin, Mazie Hirono's mother is a badass. She is really the idea behind the heart of fire. The first half of the book focuses on Mazie's mother's life, fleeing a terrible marriage, and coming to the US with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs and Mazie's subsequent childhood. The writing really pulls you in with a sense of time and place. I know what growing up with "nothing" feels like at times. It gives your entire life a unique perspective that others cannot have. Mazie saw how hard her mother worked to rise from the ashes of her life and persevere with a can-do attitude. The second half of the book focuses on Mazie's time in the Senate, how she works for the people, not herself, and the inner workings of how things really get done (or not done) on the senate floor. Mazie is also a total badass for working through some of her illnesses to make sure things got done. What a fighter/champion.
Pick up this book when you can. You won't regret it.
This was very inspiring memoir of Mazie Hirino, a United States Senator from Hawaii. She immigrated to the United States as seven year old, with her single mother and brother. Hirono tells her story with sensitivity and honesty. Her political career is related in detail that held my interest. I especially appreciated her transformation from a quiet behind the scenes legislator to senator who was outspoken advocate for progressive causes.
This is a timely, inspiring, and important autobiography. Hirono, although she is the US Senator from Hawaii, was not familiar to me until recently. Her story-that she emigrated to the US as a child and became a politician who works for her constituents- is one that should be better known. While her achievements are without question impressive, it's her mother, the woman with the heart of fire, that resonated most. This is also a political memoir and Hirono has bared some (but I strongly suspect not all) of the things she has seen and heard on the Hill. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC. Highly recommend, especially for younger readers who will find a guide here.
I love Mazie Hirono! I was motivated to read this book because I have recently been seeing her on the news making bold statements that I agree with wholeheartedly. She is a true feminist and a 100% anti-Trumper and is not afraid at all to speak her mind and tell it like it is.
The book is a great read. It starts with her family history; her grandmother was a picture bride, coming from Japan to Hawaii to get married after exchanging only a picture with her betrothed. She describes their life in Hawaii, the move back to Japan before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the circumstances of her own birth in Japan, and the return to Hawaii as a young child. She goes on to share the story of her upbringing, life as an immigrant, her close relationship with her mother and grandparents and ultimately how she gets into politics. This is all fascinating and beautifully written. I couldn't put the book down.
The second part of her book describes her life in politics all the way up through January 6, 2020. To be honest, I skimmed through parts of this.I was less invested in her climb in Hawaiian politics since I didn't know the players, but her ascent was still interesting. It was also disheartening to read about the Trump years, but I did like knowing more about Mazie's take on things and the work she did and still does to try to combat the work of the person she easily and readily calls out as "the most xenophobic, misogynistic, corrupt and self-dealing president in history." With so many politicians and other people falling in step behind him, its so great to know who still has a mind of her own and is still using it!
What I loved learning about includes: 1) Mazie's supportive marriage after a long off-and-on relationship with someone else that ultimately went nowhere, 2) her lifelong commitment to public service which remains rooted in her own experience as an immigrant, and plays out in her work for the poor and to those who are "othered," 3) her stereotype-shedding journey from "quiet and polite Asian girl" to someone who stands up and speaks out! Go, Mazie! 4) her lifelong close relationship with her supportive mom, Laura, who somehow taught her to follow her own path. Laura's gifts included the ability to create beautiful floral cards and I love that Mazie ends the book making cards of her own.
"That teacher cannot know the effect our small exchange had on me. For one thing, she helped me to make a connection between being an avid reader and writing proficiently. Many years later when I became a public official, I would ask job applicants if they like to read as a way of gauging their writing fluency. The conclusion I had reached that day at Jarrett -- that enjoyment of reading generally lead to good writing -- was usually borne out." Another testimonial for the power of reading...for pleasure! Hirono's memoir is full of great anecdotes from her childhood and young adulthood. I enjoyed her journey to law school and becoming a lifelong public servant, serving as Hawaii's first female senator. The stories that are more recent were less compelling, but that's probably because it's too soon to process the nightmare that was 45's presidency. One thing I really admire is that Hirono gives credit to so many women who came before her as well as those who have served alongside her. (I want to know why there doesn't appear to be a good biography of Patsy Mink out there?! I need to learn more about her). And she clearly has a strong relationship with her mother and gives her so much credit for being brave enough to immigrate to Hawaii in order to flee an abusive marriage in rural Japan in the 1950s. A really good read.
An enjoyable memoir about Mazie Hirono who I essentially knew nothing about before consuming. She immigrated to the US with her mother as a child and had quite of life navigating school in Hawaii, she experienced a lot of loss, accomplishments, health problems, and demonstrated a lot of empathy in her life. She learned much about perseverance from her mother. She was in elementary school when Hawaii became a state.
Most enjoyable bits were learning about her experiences in school and her home life. The last 20% of the book is a recap of her years in the senate during the trump years which is interesting but I’m not sure she needed all that stuff because even though she witnessed it, it was all these events we already knew about so I think it could have been a tighter memoir if she took out some of those sections.
But, that’s my pickiness. She is a smart woman who has worked hard to get where she is and a glass ceiling shatterer as the first Asian American woman elected to the US Senate. Her story deserves to be known by many.
I first came to admire and respect Mazie Hirono when she spoke on my favorite feminist political podcast, Hysteria. The description heart of fire is so apt when it comes to Hawaii's favorite Senator — Mazie is fiercely passionate about the causes closest to her heart: Immigration, since she herself was born in Japan and moved to Hawaii in the 1950's; poverty, since her mother worked two jobs just to keep Mazie and her brother alive; and protecting children, since her mother was forced to leave her youngest child behind in Japan for years — resulting in permanent scars for Mazie's younger brother.
I really, really enjoyed learning about Mazie's early life in Japan, as well as the stories of her mother and grandmother. Her college years navigating the politics of the Vietnam War were also fascinating — originally she had supported the war, having been raised in a conservative household, but ultimately her eyes were opened as the war progressed. (This part of Mazie's story was incredibly relatable for me — I was also raised in a very conservative household and believed what I was taught until I was in my mid 20's.) And lastly, I really enjoyed learning about Mazie's early years navigating politics when it was almost entirely male dominated.
I struggled more with the final section of the book, which focused mostly on Mazie's years in the Senate from 2016 to the present. The Trump years were so traumatic, I really didn't enjoy reliving all of the terrible shit I had already lived through once. While I understand why such a large portion of the book was dedicated to these years — it's really when Mazie started to speak out publicly against all of the atrocities happening — it's really just hard for me to go back and relive it all. Particularly painful were the final two Supreme Court nominations of Trump's presidency, in light of the fact that my right to choose whether to have children I don’t want or be charged with homicide is looking like the only choice I will have in the very near future.
An eerily relevant quote towards the end of the book really stuck with me:
I had the sensation that our nation had entered the Twilight Zone.. The con-man president had somehow managed to transform the members of his party into cowardly sycophants who had abdicated their responsibility to the American people by refusing to hold the rogue president accountable for his offenses.
I fear the consequences of the Trump presidency are truly just beginning, and will be felt for generations to come. I only hope more people like Mazie K. Hirono will stand up and fight for America as it should be, for what it could be.
I consider Mazie Hirono my Senator, even tho I don’t live in Hawaii anymore. She does represent me and the ideals I was raised with in Hawaii and carry today. So I feel she represents me more than anyone else, so I am allowed to claim her.
Since Trump has been elected, I’ve seen Mazie on MSNBC growing more and more feisty in her interviews. This is such a departure from her usual Japanese-Hawaii polite decorum and I would sit up and take notice, thinking Damn, girl! Tell it like it is! And she would give interviews in her sing-song local Hawaii pidgin accent that was music to my ears.
Hirono graduated at the same high school as I. I met her once when I was working at a local television station. When she found out went to Kaimuki High, she told me she graduated from there too. It wasn’t the best high school compared to private school greats such as Iolani and Punahou high school [Obama’s alma mater), so I was surprised we had gone to the same high school considering her political accomplishments. She was the Hawaii state Lieutenant Governor at the time I met her. While listening to the book, I realized we were both on the high school Bulldog newspaper staff. Yay! Although I was never the editor!
I looked forward to reading her book. But while she was on TV, I loved listening to her local Hawaii accent. So I thought it would be a real treat to listen to the audiobook which she narrates.
Her local accent really wasn’t there so much. I think she must have had coaching on how to tone down the accent because her reading sounded forced. It’s like when I first went to college and I would try to tone down the local accent so friends and classmates would understand me. I would speak how I thought average Americans would speak, with some hilarity. Hirono spoke so slowly in the book, that I had to speed up the narration.
I loved getting to know the Senator, her unique immigrant story and the unconventional way she lived her life. She didn’t marry until she was in her 40s and never had children. This is incredible for its time knowing how Hawaii is and the pressures people have to get married and/or have kids. She was really ahead of her time to buck such trends. I love that her mother never pressured her and let Mazie do her own thing. I hope I can be that supportive in my own kids’ life.
Mazie Hirono is a national treasure, and she continues her fierce commitment to giving zero f*cks in the name of serving those who elected her — and those who did not — in this burn book of a memoir.
Her longtime boyfriend who died alone at his desk in middle age? She sets up their decades-long relationship with both wide-eyed admiration of his strengths and clear honesty about his faults.
Her husband of more than 30 years? She writes of her withering greeting upon first meeting him, followed chapters later by her utter scorn after he began dating another woman when she started law school across the country. (She lovingly allows him some redemption when, after they married in middle age, they moved into a nice house along with her mother — and, after she was elected U.S. Senator, she would leave him at home alone with his mother-in-law for months at a time.)
She writes most fondly of her mother, whose "heart of fire" serves as the inspiration for the memoir's title and whose strength drives Mazie forward. Since we all know of Mazie's committed service in the U.S. Senate, it seems inevitable that this daughter — whose mother left her abusive husband to raise her three children in near-poverty — would be the first in her family to earn a four-year college degree and would go on to represent Hawaii in the statehouse, U.S. House of Representatives, and Senate. But this memoir makes only too clear that success is a fragile outcome made possible only by the strength and loving support Mazie found first in her mother and then in herself.
My one critique of this memoir is that the latter section's focus turns largely to Donald Trump's administration. While Mazie makes clear that she began to speak out more vehemently because she saw how much we all had to lose due to Trump's cultural and political legacies, I wish she had grounded this section more firmly in her own personal convictions. She goes into some detail about her responses and actions as a political figure, but I felt that we lost some of the personal side of Mazie in this part of the memoir.
This started off well. Mazie Hirono writes beautifully about her childhood, and her love for her mother who brought her family from Japan to Hawaii for a better life. Her love and awe of her mother is apparent, and she vividly remembers the hardships of her childhood, as her mother worked several jobs at once, and her grandparents labored outside to put a roof over their heads. She writes so well about these years -- the extreme poverty, but also the joy of playing outside with her friends, and going to school. She also writes well about the bitter history of racism in Hawaii, and about how lucky she felt to grow up in a state where her people were in the majority.
The book isn't so great after she starts running for office. Hirono makes much of the fact that she was a humble woman, who just wanted to make life better for the people of Hawaii, but she was canny enough to move around to districts where she could more easily win her races, and she is clearly holding back when she talks about the ways the good old boys of Hawaii used her, and how she got back at them by playing long political games. As the book goes on she hashes over events that happened so recently, so I ended up skipping long portions of the chapters that discuss in great detail the Kavanaugh hearings, etc. (I was riveted by her account of the events of January 6 insurrection however.) I'm glad to know more about this brilliant, formidable senator, but I would only recommend the first half of this book.
Did not know too much about Hirono other than the very basics: Senator from Hawaii, Japanese heritage, etc. I did not know until the release marketing for this book acknowledged she's the only immigrant and first Asian American woman and I thought, "Well, she sounds like an interesting person to read about!"
And she is. If you're familiar with these types of books you'll know she talks about her life and times and this is a memoir (so it's telling her life story instead of arranging things via themes or topics). So we learn about her family, her mother's unhappy marriage, what it was like growing up in Hawaii, how Hirono got into politics, etc.
Not being very familiar with Hawaii politics I'll admit to being a little lost, but I'd bet someone who is better versed would find this interesting. Hirono also talks about the Trump era and what it was like serving as a Senator during this era, which goes pretty much as one expects/nothing is too new if you follow the news.
Overall it was pretty interesting (and better than many political memoirs, which can be hit or miss and uneven in quality). Students of political science, young women (especially those of the AAPI group but really anyone at all), historians, etc. may all find this book interesting.
Would probably recommend this as a library borrow, but for the right person it might make for an interesting purchase as a gift.
3 stars isn’t a bad rating — I didn’t dislike this book! But I wanted more from it. Senator Hirono is certainly an inspirational figure, a Japanese immigrant daughter of a single mother, who grew up with financial insecurity and subsequently worked her way up in politics to help people like her. She goes into detail about her experiences with sexism and racism, some of her political accomplishments, her journey to becoming an outspoken Trump critic, and other adversities she has faced. She is vulnerable about her personal life and what her work means to her. And of course, she emphasizes of how important her mother is to her, how she showed her that she could achieve anything she worked toward with her heart of fire. Like I said, I didn’t dislike this book. Senator Hirono is clearly a dedicated and admirable public servant. But I did feel there was a lack of a unifying theme in the book. It felt less like one story and more like a lot of random anecdotes from Hirono’s life, without a real throughline. I rarely read biographies, though, so it’s possible this is normal for the genre. If it wouldn’t bother you, I recommend giving this book a try. I listened to the audiobook, read by the senator herself, which definitely added to the experience.
Mazie Hirono came onto the political scene in Hawaii after I had moved away, although I followed her career over the years. Had she defeated Linda Lingle for Governor, she may have never left Hawaii for Washington - my opinion is that she would have been far superior, although I agree with her self assessment that she is much more effective as a legislator than an executive. I'm glad to have had insight in her background - I had not realize how much her family struggled in her early life. She has really made a difference in the Senate and is doing Hawaii proud. I would have liked a deeper dive on her thoughts on policy, rather than a recap of her actions in the Senate. It's obvious that she has tried to do some things on a bipartisan level in the Senate - it's not her fault that the Senate has become so polarized. Now that Trump is out, I hope that she continues to be more assertive in her actions.
Senator's Mazie's story is a down-to-earth memoir with much heartbreak, grit, and perseverance. There were a lot of twists and turns, almost like a movie. She and her family truly pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, arriving in Hawaii as poor immigrants. She wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth and achieved much with hard work and perseverance, always focused on helping first the Hawaiian people, and later on, the American people in general. I can relate to her story, because as an Asian-American woman myself, I was taught growing up that the males in the family/community/society are always right. I hope that over the years, like the Senator, I have also learned to become more assertive. The only downside to the book was that I had to re-live the national nightmare that was the Trump administration.
What a fascinating memoir! Mazie Hirono was born in Japan, emigrated to Hawaii when she was a child, and experienced extreme poverty growing up. Despite the struggles of her early years, she was able to get a college education and eventually went to Georgetown University Law School. From her college years onward, Mazie Hirono was involved in Democratic Party politics, serving in the Hawaii state legislature, as lieutenant governor and eventually as a Congresswoman and, beginning in 2012, a U.S. senator. She was the first immigrant to serve in the Senate, and was reelected to a second term in 2018.
I especially enjoyed reading about Senator Hirono’s early years, and was impressed with her fearless mother, who not only left her alcoholic husband, but emigrated from Japan to Hawaii to give her children a better life. This was an intriguing and well written book, and I recommend it.
This is an outstanding read, inspirational and thought-provoking. You can’t help but feel for the young immigrant Mazie and her family as they struggle to survive and, hopefully, thrive in their new country. The real hero of this book, and the unsung hero of our country, is Maizie’s mother, Laura, whose hard work and determination is so quintessentially American! How lucky for us that she chose to bring her family back to Hawaii—and how wrong it seems that none of us would know her without this book. It just goes to show once again how our country is made better because of the fortitude of immigrants like them. We have all benefited because of how Laura raised her daughter. Laura and Mazie are both national treasures whose courage and hard work have bettered not just their own lives, but countless other Americans’ lives as well.
The impressive life story of Hawaii's Senator Mazie Hirono, well told. From poverty in Japan and Oahu, speaking no English on arrival in Hawaii at age 7, Hirono qualified as an attorney and rose through the political ranks at the state and national levels, to become the first Asian-American woman in the US Senate. She honors her mother's strength throughout, credits many people (including teachers) for encouragement and help, and documents her own growth, from the modest reserve she was taught to today's strong speaker for causes she believes in. Reading Hirono's story was especially intriguing for me, as we are the same age and were in high school in Honolulu at the same time; and I lived on Oahu again while she was in the US House. Truly powerful story.
Growing up in Hawai`i, I really appreciated that Mazie Hirono captured the complex political and ethnic history of the islands while also weaving in a national perspective. She has an important and very interesting story to tell, and I love that she highlights how she has come into her own voice, retained her authenticity, and channeled her lived experiences into her public service. Her reflections as an Asian American woman in politics are priceless, even down to how you communicate and fundraise were incredibly insightful as well. Great book and so very thankful to her for her service and for sharing her story to inspire others as well.
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. -Rainer Maria Rilke”
“Just because you had stood up for people in the past didn’t mean they would rally to your cause in the future. It was a harsh lesson, and I would learn it well. Never again would I expect loyalty for loyalty given.”
“Whether through public service, media, social advocacy, or the voting booth, it was incumbent on each of us to declare our resistance in the boldest terms . . . the words and actions that we chose now would define our nation for generations.”
I finished this book this afternoon. Senator Mazie K. Hirono's story is mesmerizing! Although I was never familiar with her before reading, she is one of my new trailblazing heroes in the political arena. Her writing was captivating and replete with rich details of Hawaii and Japan. She transports readers to both respective places due to her strong use of imagery.
Senator Mazie K. Hirono has broken through many barriers as an Asian-American senator. The main reason why Senator Hirono's story resonated with me is that she espouses similar values as I do, such as perseverance, social justice, and human rights.
Mazie is our progressive hero. She is the US Senator from Hawaii who has written her life story. She comes from a family of strong women. Her mother left her husband in Japan and returned to her birthplace, Hawaii with two of her three children, Mazie and her son, Roy. This book is Mazie's love letter to her mother as well as describing her own life journey to the halls of congress. Maisie an immigrant who keenly remembers how her family struggled living on the margins of society. Mazie's life experiences has informed her advocacy for all. She has been described as one badass legislator who over time found her voice.
This is a good book and very readable for a politician's autobiography. She engages you immediately with her family history and her attachment to Hawaii. I couldn't keep going, though, because I was getting really triggered by how poorly she was treated by the males in her life - the sexism was just so offensive; and how she would go along with some of it, as many women do, not just women of Japanese origins who are schooled to keep themselves to themselves. Despite all of that, she rose and is still very active. So proud of this important public figure in the United States.
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir by Senator Mazie Hirono, and as I learned more about her, I became even more proud of the fact that she is one of my senators. Both an immigrant story and a political memoir, this book is by turns poignant and inspiring. Seeing how the senator finds her voice and fights for those who do not have a voice of their own calls us all to action to help those less fortunate and to fight for our ideals and our country's values.
I really liked hearing her story of her immigrant family and upbringing in Japan and Hawaii. I loved that part, actually. But when she got out of law school I began to lose interest because it was detailed into politics, which isn't why I was attracted to the book in the first place, so makes sense. Overall interesting, I'm just not into politics, so I'm marking this as read even though I stopped reading a few chapters into her political career.
What did I think? I think I could not admire a person more. I am glad Senator Hirono found her voice, she is the essence of the phrase "public servant." I would imagine this would not be easy to read (or listen to, as I did) if you have different political ideologies, but her voice and her life story cannot fail to permeate hearts.
I very much enjoyed listening to this as an audio book, as she was the reader with her calming and melodious voice. I would give this more stars if I could.
In short, Mazie Hirono is a badass. I loved reading about her evolution from reserved and polite up-and-comer to seasoned queen who has zero f's to give and tells it like it is. The book is also a loving tribute to her mom, who modeled for Mazie what a strong woman looks like. Wonderful memoir, I loved it. I hope she writes another when the time is right, because she is still very relevant and continues to serve the people of Hawaii and the country as a United States Senator.