The Women of Ellensburg: Issues of Women in Washington State
Two Types of Needs: Native Born and Immigrant Women
In addressing the issues of Asian/Pacitic women, one must be aware of the differences between those who are secondor third-generation Americans and those who are foreign born.
Native-born Asian women face the same problems as other American women and, in addition, experience cultural conflicts as a result of the differences between the expectations placed upon them as members of traditional Asian families and those placed upon them as members of contemporary American society. Traditional Asian women are expected to be subsurvient and silent, and to please others. At the same time, contemporary American socieLy demands that one be aggressive, highly verbal, and individualistic in order to succeed.
Asian women who are recent immigrants frequently do not know English, have no information about their legal rights, are unaware of social services for which they might be eligible, and live in constant fear of deportation. They are, in short, primarily concerned with the basic survival issues of life.
Plight of Immigrant Women
In the Fort Lewis area near Tacoma, there are 200-500 Asian women presently married to American servicemen. Another 1,500-2,000 Asian women have been deserted or divorced by their husbands. These women have often been physically abused by their husbands, have no financial support, and lack the basic skills necessary to live and work in this country.
Immigrant women who are not service wives also fear deportation and have no knowledge about their legal rights; thus they are easy prey for unscrupulous employers. These women are often employed in unskilled and low-paying jobs (such as farm labor and the garment industry) where their lack of language skills does not pose a problem. The poor conditions in which they work often give rise to such diseases as tuberculosis. Even those Asian-born women who are trained as professionals (lawyers, accountants, etc.) are often barred from appropriate employment because of licensing or accreditation requirements.
Problems of Native-Born Women
Despite the fact that many Asian/Pacific women born in the United States have been educated beyond the national average, most are relegated to clerical and service-related jobs like waitress or maid. Asian/Pacific women feel that the "Lotus Blossom" image of Asian women as domestic, obedient, quiet, passive, and intellectually uninspired is responsible for much job stereotyping. In addition, job counseling based on the rigidly defined standards of success of white males and the traditionally low cultural expectations for Asian women also play a role in keeping these women in positions below their skill level.
For Asian/Pacific women as for other groups, discrimination in employment has its roots in discrimination in education. Asian/Pacific women have traditionally been channeled into fields such as fine art, health sciences, or technical research, rather than into disciplines requiring aggressive verbal behavior. Thus, they are under-represented in administrative positions, and few have been elected to political office. In addition, neither Asian history nor the Asian-American experience are adequately taught in American schools.
Some Proposed Solutions
While native-born Asian/Pacific women are able to identify with the issues of the women's movement, foreign-born women are primarily concerned with the physical survival of themselves and their families. Asian/Pacific women call for rigorous enforcement of affirmative action programs, the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, increased availability of child care, more Asian women administrators in educational institutions, and greater numbers of Asian women in political positions. Foreign-born wornen particularly need bilingual job training and special legal and social services.
All Asian women need community-centered bicultural and bilingual health education in family planning, pap smears, breast exams, and other health services. Mental health services are also needed, particularly for immigrant women and service wives. In addition, more specific research about the special needs of Asian/Pacific women is also needed.
A Newly Organized Political Force
Like other minority women, Black women see themselves as Blacks first and women second. However, in Washington state, they have come to the conclusion that, despite some concern that the women's movement is too white and middle-class, the women's movement can provide an effective forum for them. As a result, Black women have begun organizing as women and forming tenuous relationships with the existing women's organizations. Education, employment, child care, political awareness and involvement, reproductive decisions, and affirmative action are the primary concerns of Black women's groups.
Poverty is the Economic Reality
Although there is a general belief that most Blacks have reached middle-class status as a result of the civil rights legislation of the 1960's, this is only true for the young, educated Blacks. The social and economic reality for the majority of Black people is still poverty.
During the upswing of the 60's, unemployment for Blacks dropped from 10.2% to 6.4% and the median income rose from $3,233 to $6,191. Upward mobility became possible for the young and educated during this period, but other Blacks - women heads of households, the elderly, and teenagers - were largely bypassed. The 1969 recession and the economic problems of the 1970's halted or reversed economic progress for Black Americans. Female-headed households were especially hard hit. For example, while one out of three poor Black families were headed by women in 1960, by 1972 this number had risen to nearly two out of three.
Employment and Educational Disadvantages
Since 1960, the percentage of Blacks in unskilled occupations has dropped from 58% to 37.8%, but they still hold a disproportionate number of low-paying, dead-end jobs. Also, most of those Blacks who do hold semi-skilled or professional positions are at the beginning steps of career ladders and the bottom of seniority lists; in an economic crunch, they are often the first to be laid off.
While educational attainment has risen dramatically among younger Blacks since 1962, middle-aged and older Blacks remain greatly under-educated in comparison with both their white counterparts and young Blacks.
Survival Problems of Black Women
Black women in particular face severe economic, educational, and employment problems. One out of three Black families is headed by a woman because of the high incidence of teenage pregnancy, the prolonged incarceration of Black males, the high mortality rate of minority men, and the structure of present welfare laws. The lack of quality day care facilities and an inadequate level of education force many of these women into marginal, part-time jobs such as household services. Even those families in which both parents are present depend on the female adult for almost 50% of the family income. Therefore, the economic hardships of Black women pose serious problems for the survival of Black families as a whole.
Some Proposed Solutions
In order to overcome these problems, Black women feel that strong affirmative action programs are needed in employment and education and that increasing attention must be paid to the child care needs of working mothers.
Of immediate concern is the Bakke case, in which the California Supreme Court ruled that Allan Bakke, a 37-year-old white civil engineer, had been a victim of 11 reverse discrimination" when he was denied entrance to University of California at Davis medical school in 1973 and 1974. The University of California appeal is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. According to Black women and other minorities, a Supreme Court decision concurring with that of the California court could set affirmative action programs throughout the country back 10 years.
While education is seen as the primary means to upward mobility and job security for minority peoples, Black women feel that existing educational institutions do not respond to the needs of Black students. Therefore, they want more control over curriculum, teacher training, and staff development in order to eliminate sex and race bias and encourage ethnic pride.
Black women are also concerned about the epidemic proportions of pregnancy among Black teenagers and about the sterilization of Black mothers on welfare. They recommend community-based, Black-run reproductive counseling centers and sex education classes for parents, so that the parents themselves can instruct their children accurately and confidently.
Finally, in order to effect these changes, Black women believe they must become politically aware and active so that they can begin to fill elected and appointed positions at all levels of government and influence those persons already holding these positions.
Inequities Suffered by Hispanic People
Women of Spanish origin include Cubans, Central and South Americans, Spaniards, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans.
These women feel that their concerns as members of these unique groups take precedence over their concerns as women. This is due to the fact that most of the inequalities they face are community-wide and affect Hispanic peoples as a whole.
In general, the concerns of Hispanic peoples are low pay, high unemployment, few marketable skills, language barriers, and hostility, misunderstanding, or mistrust from members of the dominant culture.
Employment and Education Problems
While the average income for white families in 1974 was $13,359, the median income for those of Spanish origin was $3,800 less. In 1973, one of every five persons of Spanish descent had an income below the poverty level, while over half of those living in households headed by Hispanic women were classified as poor.
During the third quarter of 1975, the unemployment rate for Hispanic women 20 years of age and older was 11.2%, compared to 7.7% for white women. Teenagers of Spanish origin reported an unemployment rate of more than 26% during the same period.
Most people of Spanish descent who were employed worked as laborers, clerical workers, craftspersons, service workers, and operators (sewers and stitchers, assemblers, packers and wrappers, transport equipment workers, etc.). Only slightly more than 5% were employed in managerial or administrative positions; another 6.4% worked in professional or technical capacities; and another 4.8% were salespersons.
The average level of educational attainment for persons of Spanish origin is generally low. Among those 25 and older in 1974, the average number of years of schooling completed was 9.9 (three years less than the American population as a whole). Furthermore, one out of every f i ve persons of Spanish origin lacked the five years of schooling thought necessary for basic literacy.
The employment and education problems of Hispanic peoples are caused primarily by the fact that the majority of people of Spanish origin in this country are relatively recent immigrants. As a result, in addition to the problems mentioned above, they must confront language and cultural differences.
Immigration policies are of particular concern to Hispanic peoples. They feel that the American government imports Mexican workers when there is a need for cheap labor and then sends them back when the situation changes. These Mexican nationals take jobs that most American citizens refuse to do and yet suffer constant raids from immigration officials searching for undocumented workers. The Hispanic women's caucus feels that these practices, as well as the Rodino Bill (which would require all Hispanic peoples to carry special passcards when applying for jobs) and the Eilberq Law (which does not allow Mexican nationals to bring children under 21 into the country with them), pose serious problems for all Hispanic people in this country.
The Need to Unionize Farmworkers
A related problem is that of farmworkers who are primarily Hispanics. While the majority of skilled and semi-skilled workers in this country are unionized and fall well within the American middle income range, farmworkers, who live barely above subsistence level and often lack basic health and social services, are threatened with Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act when they attempt to unionize. Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act allows for the enactment of state "right-to-work" laws, which forbid labor unions from requiring union membership as a condition of employment.
The Media Image
In regard to the media, people of Spanish origin are rarely portrayed on television. Those who do appear are normally found in stereotyped or token roles, such as the Mexican bandit or the "lazy, slovenly Chicano." Members of the Hispanic community call for more responsible portrayal of Spanish Americans, as well as bilingual broadcasting and journal ism.
The Most Significant Issues
Therefore, the issues of primary importance to Hispanic women are: I) the need for quality bilingual and bicultural education; 2) the rights of farmworkers to unionize for better wages; 3) the legal status of workers in migrant labor camps; 4) the need for continuing affirmative action programs; 5) the threat to civil liberties posed by such legislation as the Rodino Bill; 6) the need for political representation by Hispanic peoples; 7) the lack of adequate child care services for Spanish women; 8) the right of Hispanic women to reproductive choice, including protection from sterilization as an adjunct of welfare services; and 9) the need for bilingual media and an improved media image for Hispanic peoples.
Native American Women
Native American women identify themselves primarily in terms of their racial/ethnic heritage and only secondarily in terms of their position as women. In the first place, traditional Native American societies in this area were largely matrilineal, and women held high status in these societies. Secondly, Native American women feel that the major barriers to their full and equal participation in society are a result of discrimination against Indian peoples as a whole rather than against them as women.
Therefore, their primary concerns are in relation to treaty rights, education, the separation of Native American children from their families, the sterilization of Indian women by the Indian Health Service, alcoholism, and the concept of tribal sovereignty.
The Issue of Treaty Rights
The question of treaty rights is one that is hotly debated both in and out of the courts. Washington, in particular, is the scene of a great deal of controversy. In the case of fishing rights, Washington Indians fought the state government for 20 years before Judge George Boldt of the
Federal District Court declared in 1974 that treaty tribes must be allowed the opportunity to harvest 50% of the allowable catch of salmon and steelhead. He based his decision on the provisions of the Stevens Treaties of 1854 and 1855. There has been a great deal of opposition from sports and commercial fishermen since 1974, and the ruling has not been carried out by the state agencies concerned. As a result, Judge Boldt has recently issued a "Memorandum Order and Preliminary Injunction" withdrawing specified amounts of fish from state jurisdiction and placing this amount under the jurisdiction of the federal court.
Other areas of conflict at this time include control over water and energy resources, land taxation, and civil criminal jurisdiction within reservation boundaries.
Education: A Difference in Value Systems
Native Americans' concerns in regard to education stem from the fact that most Bureau of Indian Affairs and public schools support value systems radically different from those of their traditional cultures. Indian spokeswomen point out that the dominant society supports competition rather than cooperation, thoughtless chatter rather than introspection, and thrift rather than generosity. Therefore, they believe, the classroom becomes a battleground for the mind of the child.
Washington Native Americans have been very active in the area of education. A Native American alternative school established at Frank's Landing by a Puyallup tribeswomen provides Indian culture-based curriculum for preschool children through sixth grade. American Heritage High School in Seattle offers a similar program for Washington Indians of high school age.
Title IV funds (provided by the Indian Education Act of 1972) have made it possible for school districts throughout the state to establish special Indian education programs. For example, the Olympia school district has a multi-faceted program providing counseling and tutoring services for Native Americans, as well as cultural enrichment activities.
Finally, the United Indians of all Tribes are involved in developing Indian curriculum and providing a high school equivalency program for Indian adults.
Threats to the Family
Indian Children in Foster Homes
At some time during their lives, between 25%and35% of Indian children are removed from their familiesand placed in foster homes, adoptive homes, or institutions. According to Native Americans, this is due to the fact that social workers do not understand Indian culture and, in many cases, consider poverty, poor housing, lack of modern plumbing, and overcrowding to be evidence of parental neglect. While the Department of Social and Health Services has adopted new regulations over the past three years which give priority to the placement of Indian children within their own tribe or culture group, Native Americans feel that these regulations are not working well. They cite unnecessarily strict qualifications for foster parents as a major cause for the lack of success.
Sterilization of Native American Women
Large numbers of Indian women are being sterilized by Indian Health Service doctors. While statistics are not available for Washington State, studies conducted by the U.S. General Accounting Office in four of the 12 areas serviced by the I HS demonstrated that almost 3,500 Indian women had been sterilized between 1973 and 1976. Of these, 36 were under 21 years of age. One woman was told that her recurring headaches resulted from a fear of pregnancy and was encouraged to undergo sterilization. She later learned that her headaches were the result of a brain tumor. Dr. Connie Uri, a Choktaw and Cherokee Indian who practices medicine in Los Angeles, does not believe that these operations result from a conscious attempt to exterminate the Indian people, but rather are due to the mistaken belief on the part of many doctors that "to have a good life you must be born into a middle-class standard of I ivi ng. "
It has been estimated that one-third of the adult Indian population has a drinking problem and that alcohol is the number one killer of the Indian people. The director of the Seattle Indian Alcoholism program estimates that more than 90% of Native Americans in penal institutions are there as a result of alcohol-related convictions.
While there is a special program for Indian alcoholics in Seattle, as well as a halfway house, similar services do not exist in other areas of the state and are sorely needed.
The recent report of the American Indian Policy Review Commission supports the concept of "tribal sovereignty." In their words: "the ultimate objective of federal Indian policy must be directed toward aiding the tribes in the achievement of fully functioning governments, exercising primary governmental authority within the reservation." Congressman Lloyd Meeds (D-Wa.), Vice-Chair of the Commission, in a voluminous "Dissent to the Findings," stated that "the doctrine of inherent tribal sovereignty ... ignores the historical reality that American Indian tribes lost their sovereignty through discovery, conquest, cession, treaties, statutes, and history." Indians point to the fact that they were granted such status in their treaties, the "Supreme Law of the Land," and that this status has been upheld in a series of court decisions stretching back to the 19th century. Obviously, the state governments, which are still required to provide services to Native Americans, do not relish the idea of losing any right of taxation or civil and criminal jurisdiction over Indian reservations. Non-Indians living on reservations cry "taxation without representatinn."
However, one must keep in mind that the Indian pe-oDles were the first Americans, and that the country has become rich on the land taken from them. Meanwhile, Native Americans have become the poorest, least educated, most prone to illness and, until recently, the least conspicuous of national minorities. They number no more than a million people at this time. Two hundred years of attempts to assimilate them into the mainstream of American social fabric have obviously been unsuccessf ul. Indian spokespeople believe that it is time to recognize that American Indians deserve a chance to reclaim the identity, dignity, pride and esteem that have too often been taken from them.