Why I am Running for Congress
By: Nate Shinagawa
With all the gridlock in Washington today, people often ask me why Iím running for Congress. Itís a simple question, but it deserves more than a simple answer. So before I can really explain why Iím running, I need to tell you a little bit about my family.
My grandfather, Roy Shinagawa, was born and raised in California. He and his family were placed in the Japanese internment camps during the Second World War. Their property and freedom were taken from them. His father died of pneumonia in a horse stall because he was denied care. Theyíd lost nearly everything by the time they were freed.
My grandfather could have been angry. He could have been resentful. But despite this injustice, he maintained a deep love for this country and its ideals. My grandfather chose to enlist in the military to prove that he was a proud and loyal American. He served in Korea and Vietnam. He was fortunate to find a good manufacturing job when he returned that allowed him to raise a family. His story taught my father and me the values of service and courage.
My father, Larry Shinagawa, also influenced my career path. When I was thirteen, a former student of my father named Kuanchung Kao was murdered in a case of police brutality. Kao had gone out to a bar with friends to celebrate a promotion. He ran into some men who didnít like the way he looked, so they harassed him and threw a dart through his cheek. When the police came, only he was taken into custody.
The police took my fatherís student home, intoxicated and angry, and his wife wouldnít let him in until he calmed down. When the police came back and witnessed an upset man carrying a broomstick, an officer pulled out his gun and from a distance shot him until he bled out, claiming the man was going to use ďmartial artsĒ on him. Local officials covered everything up, and a tiny settlement was given to the dead manís wife and three children.
My father refused to allow government, which is supposed to protect us, to fail at such a basic level. He decided to get involved, and helped bring the Asian Law Caucus and the Justice Department to investigate. My father took me to meetings with the widow and I watched her cry in frustration, baffled about how the government could let this happen.
In response, my family was subjected to intimidation by local officials and police officers. The local KKK put our names and address on their newsletter and one night stuffed a copy in our door. My family and I got threatening phone calls and horrible letters, and I wondered if weíd ever be safe again.
But my father kept fighting.He helped win justice and a fairer settlement for the manís wife and kids. One day, while my father was sitting at our kitchen table talking to his friends about what they had achieved and how difficult it had been to get their elected officials to do the right thing, I heard someone ask, ďIf our leaders donít care about us, why donít we become the leaders?Ē
When I first ran for office over six years ago, I ran to make my community better. I ran on the ideals my father had taught me Ė to lead when others wonít.
Lately, our elected officials have refused to lead. They had the chance to transform our country into a 21st century economy, and theyíve failed. I know because Iíve seen first-hand how their failures in Congress have impacted our communities and our local budgets.
As a Tompkins County Legislator in New York State, Iím not just responsible for my constituents ó Iím responsible for my neighbors. Thereís no passing the buck in local politics. If we donít get the job done, it doesnít get done, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. That sort of accountability and responsibility is lacking in Washington, as representatives choose to spend more time playing politics than making policy.
Their bickering has only served to diminish our countryís prospects, and to harm hard-working people across the nation. Gridlock has led to stagnation, and prevented necessary investments in education and infrastructure and reforms to healthcare and immigration. This not only makes it more difficult for Americans to lead productive lives, but it makes it harder for young people to enjoy the social mobility that stands as the cornerstone of the American Dream.
Thatís not the America that my father and grandfather fought for. And itís certainly not the America I want to pass on to future generations.
I believe that America will prosper when it invests in its people, not when it serves corporations at their expense. We must ensure that all members of the community have a stake in our society, and that all people have the opportunity to reach their highest potential. This means investing in our future. And it requires securing the rights of all people, regardless of their age, race, sex, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic that has no bearing on oneís abilities.
We have the opportunity on November 6 to bring real leadership back to Washington, and to once again give the working people of America the representation they deserve. At such a crucial point in our countryís recovery, nothing could be more important. I vow to be a voice for our shared values, and to fight for my constituents even when the opposition is tough. I will lead when others wonít ó just as my father taught me, and my grandfather taught him. Thatís why I am running for Congress.
Nate Shinagawa is a Democratic candidate for the 23rd Congressional District in New York. Currently, he serves as Vice Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature and is on leave from his position as an administrator for Guthrie Health Services. For more information on Shinagawa, please visit www.nateforny.com.