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Interview with Dixie Riley

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Dixie Riley was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1951. She worked for most of her life as a human rights activist. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Dixie's early life and family history - education - growing up in Minnesota - being the only woman in school and at her job - working as a social activist - meeting her husband and adopting his children as her own - being involved in organizations particularly the Nation Organization of Women (NOW) - protesting the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: As Dixie Riley passed away before the interview was to take place Dixie's sister Ellen Riley Miller and her daughters Mary J. Latu, and Helemine Latu narrated on her behalf.

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Asian American & Pacific Islander
Oral History Project
Dixie Riley Memorial Interview Interviewer: David Zander

ELLEN RILEY MILLER, MARY J. LATU & HELEMINE LATU
Narrators

DAVID ZANDER
Interviewer

Cover design: Kim Jackson Copyright © 2012 by Minnesota Historical Society All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy and recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Oral History Office, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102.

THE MINNESOTA ASIAN COMMUNITIES ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
The Asian population of Minnesota has grown dramatically since 1980, and in particular during the period from 1990 to the present. The Asian community is one of the largest and most diverse in the state, and is particularly noteworthy because its growth has been spread across such a wide spectrum of ethnic groups. The Minnesota Historical Society and the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans formed a partnership to create a series of projects of oral history interviews with Asian community leaders. The projects are intended to help chronicle the history, successes, challenges, and contributions of this diverse and highly important group of Minnesotans. During the past twenty years the Minnesota Historical Society has successfully worked with many immigrant communities in the state to ensure that the stories of their arrival, settlement, and adjustment to life in Minnesota becomes part of the historical record. While the Society has worked with the Asian Indian, Tibetan, Cambodian and Hmong communities in the recent past, the current project includes interviews with members of the Vietnamese, Filipino, Lao and Korean communities, with more planned for the future. These new projects have created an expanded record that that better represents the Asian community and its importance to the state. The project could not have succeeded without the efforts of a remarkable group of advisors who helped frame the topics for discussion, and the narrators who shared their inspiring stories in each interview. We are deeply grateful for their interest and their commitment to the cause of history.

James E. Fogerty Minnesota Historical Society

Kao Ly Ilean Her Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans

 

Dixie Lee Riley

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Dixie in her early years.

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Dixie when she was working for the National Organization for Women (NOW), on a trip to Nairobi, Kenya.

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Dixie with a group of women from Pan-Pacific and South-East Asia Women’s Association (PPSEAWA) in Singapore, Indonesia.

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Dixie in Singapore.

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Dixie in Washington DC protesting for the reproductive rights of women.

NOW protests in Washington DC on Dixie’s trip.

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Fauhau and Dixie in Tonga with PPSEAWA.

Fauhau and Dixie. 18

 

Latu 5 with Dixie.

Dixie with her brothers and sisters.

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Latu family portrait, 2011.

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THE INTERVIEW
 

   

Ellen Riley Miller, Mary J. Latu & Helemine Latu Narrators David Zander Interviewer April 25, 2012 Brookdale Library, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota

Ellen Riley Miller Mary J. Latu Helemine Latu David Zander

-ERM -MJL -HL -DZ

DZ: My name is David Zander, interviewer. I am here with Ellen, Mary Jane and Helemine to gather the story of the late Dixie Riley as part of the Pacific Islander oral histories. Please give me your full names. Let’s start with Ellen. ERM: I’m Ellen Riley Miller, Dixie Riley’s sister. MJL: I’m Mary Jane Latu; I am Dixie Riley’s daughter. HL: I’m Helemine Latu; I’m Dixie Riley’s daughter. DZ: Great. So I have three of the family. The purpose of this interview is to try to do a memorial story of Dixie Riley’s life as told through her family members. So, Ellen, let me start with you. Where were you born? ERM: Dixie and I, our family was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. DZ: When was Dixie born? ERM: Nineteen fifty-one (1951). DZ: And what order of siblings are you? Who was the oldest? ERM: We have an older brother. Dixie was number two, first daughter. I was number three, and I had a brother then a younger sister. So there were five in the family. Five siblings. DZ: And your parents. Give me the names of your parents. ERM: Paul Riley and Ellen Chun.

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DZ: Chun. Chinese? ERM: Yes. DZ: And so, Ellen, you are named after your mother. ERM: Yes. DZ: Paul Riley and Ellen Chun are the parents. Dixie was third or fourth generation Hawaiian. Who are the grandparents on each side? Do you know who the grandparents are? ERM: Sure. Our Hawaiian grandparents, or Chinese grandparents, they were Tai Hoi Chun and Bernice Chun. DZ: Did you know them? ERM: Just briefly. They passed away shortly after we started making enough trips to Hawaii to get to know them. We just started going back there and then grandpa passed away. DZ: And then who were the grandparents on your father’s side, Paul Riley’s side. ERM: That was Aloysius and Bernice Riley. Aloysius – Al for short. Irish. [chuckles] And Bernice. So we had both grandmas who were named Bernice. It’s kind of unusual. DZ: The grandparents were they born in Hawaii or did they come from China? How far back does your Chinese ancestry go? Do you know? ERM: They were born in Hawaii. I believe Mom (Ellen Chun) was third generation, so her parents would have been second generation. DZ: So it was the great-grandparents’ generation that came from China. Ellen, I’d like you to talk about you’re early, early memories, you were born in Hawaii. Do you remember anything from those early years? ERM: I think the only things I remember are things that appear in pictures. You know, we saw a few pictures of when my Grandmother Chun – took care of us, and there’d be a few pictures there, so I don’t know if I recall that, but when you see the pictures later it sort of integrates, but I can’t honestly say I remember anything in Hawaii. DZ: So, where and when are your first memories? ERM: It would be Minnesota, Minnesota once we were back here. My dad was from Minnesota. Paul Riley. This was his home. They met when he was in the Marine Corps in Hawaii, that’s how he met my mother.

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DZ: Tell me a little bit about your father, Paul Riley. He’s a Minnesotan, went in the marines. ERM: Yes. I guess a couple things that stand out with him – He always claimed to be the last person in the city of Minneapolis to have a horse, ‘because he’s always had horses, the Irish thing, and we’ve always kept that up. Then, when he was in Hawaii – he went in the marines right after he got out of high school, he was stationed in Hawaii, and because he was a good swimmer, he was a lifeguard at the local Y, and that’s where he met my mother, ‘cause she was at the Y. So that’s how they met, and it’s ironic, because as a family all five of the siblings, Dixie included, swam like rocks. We could not swim. [General laughter] I think we were thirty-five before we finally found an instructor that could actually get us over our fear of water, [chuckles] so it’s a little ironic that they were swimmers, and that is how they met. My dad actually, in Hawaii, was started stock car racing in Hawaii. So, there’s a little bit of history there. DZ: So, he was based in Hawaii, as a marine, for awhile. ERM: Yes, out at Ewa Beach Air Station. DZ: Where in Minnesota was he from? ERM: Right here in Minneapolis. Born and raised here in Minneapolis. That’s why we returned here. Once all five children were born he returned home. He got homesick, he really did get homesick. DZ: So, he met Ellen Chun in Hawaii, and then she came here, stayed here all her life, or did she go back and forth? ERM: It was like thirty years before she was able to visit – financially could not afford it. They never took vacations. They didn’t know what vacation was, and so I was in college and got one of those college student tickets to Hawaii, so my sisters and I, we pitched in and bought Mom a ticket, so I went back with her the first time after she had been gone almost thirty years. DZ: So, how many years older than you was Dixie? ERM: Just one year. We were just all one year apart. We were a very close-knit family, in that sense. DZ: Let’s talk about how school was for both of you – you probably did all your schooling here. ERM: All our schooling here. Dixie and I, and my sister, were scholars. Top of the class – I think she was the second in her class of I think, it was 750 students at Osseo High School. So, as part of their program at that time, they accelerated her, so she skipped a year and actually graduated a year earlier than normally, but she still was second in her class. My brother, to this day, always said – Oh, it’s so tough! ‘Cause all the teachers, they already went through Dixie and myself, and then they’d say – Oh, yes, you can do this [chuckles] and that wasn’t his specialty, and they wouldn’t believe that! No, he wasn’t an all-A student [chuckles]. Mike, my brother Michael – Oh, he says, I had to follow you girls and they wouldn’t believe that. [Laughter]
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DZ: I’ve got a little chart here showing all your siblings: Patrick, Michael, Colleen Riley, yourself, Dixie. Who’s the oldest? ERM: Patrick. Then Dixie, then Ellen, then Michael, and Colleen. DZ: A question I have – when Dixie was growing up, Dixie as a teen-ager – were there any signs that she was going to be a social rights activist? Do you remember any things that indicated that? ERM: Well, I would think – and she and I had similar experiences in, I think from eighth to twelfth grade, where they start career counseling and determining what you should do. Well, the counselors would always counsel us to go into nursing and teaching, and that was not our thing. We were technical, we knew mathematics, and this was at the time of the space program, so for myself, I said – Well, no, if I’m going to work, then I’ll be an engineer. I know math and science, very similar to Dixie. I don’t know what Dixie’s issues were, but we often laughed about how those counselors just couldn’t see us taking on these technical jobs. We had to go out and find our own scholarships, find our own organizations, because the structure or the systems really didn’t support us at that time. This would have been late-60s, mid-60s. So, that could have been the start of it, knowing that there was no support out there and that… and generally the counselors were all men, so, you know, it was a non-traditional role, and I’m sure that was part of it, just being aware of that. DZ: I experienced the same thing in London with my niece, Tina. Her family saying, oh, nursing, teaching, and I said – Tina, you can do anything, you can do anything. She was about twenty years younger than me. But, that limiting of girls into nursing or teaching was common. ERM: And that is something that we often talked about it as a family, or at least the girls, because I would get feedback at job interviews when I graduated from college, because it would come up and we’d say – Whatever I want to do, I can do it. There were no barriers, and I know it was the same with Dixie. I think through the school systems, probably the first challenge of the system came when we were told we had to take home economics… you know, girls went to home ec, boys went to shop class, and I don’t remember if she was the first one or if I was the first one to insist that I got into print shop. It just rocked the school system. They just didn’t know what to do, because it was just – no, you went to home ec. I said, no, I don’t want to do home ec, I want to do print shop, because, once again, it became, you know, skills that you might be able to get a job later on, so, versus the traditional, get married, stay home role that women had at that time. DZ: Dixie went to Institute of Technology. ERM: University of Minnesota, Institute of Technology. She was a mathematics major. DZ: So how does that work? Do you enroll as a general math major and then you go into IT later, or do you, as an undergrad go into IT?

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ERM: Institute of Technology, the math program was in the Institute of Technology, so it was the higher level math. DZ: So, did she get a BA in math? ERM: BS, BS in mathematics. Oh, we’re very particular about that. [Chuckles] When you go to the institute of technology, you work like crazy. Matter of fact, this, I’m sure, was a factor with Dixie, too, even though I don’t believe we ever spoke about it. My mom, coming from Hawaii, where the school systems, where you had to kind of test to, in order to get to certain schools. When we were growing up, her thing was always get good grades because you’ve got to… in order to get into the best schools, because in Hawaii there was a sort of a structure, you know. If you couldn’t speak English properly you went to a different school than if you had proper English training, and so it was always you’ll get good grades to move ahead. But, because of her background – this is my mother, she would always say how you’ll be in with all these extremely smart men, which the Institute of Technology was dominated by men, so it was a little intimidating, and I can reflect on my part. Now, I don’t know if any of it ever impacted Dixie, but you had to say to yourself – I’m just as smart as these boys I’m in class with. And it was, you know, got honors and everything. But I know there were more women in the math programs, but it was still very much a minority role. So, I’m sure on a daily basis that all came together to kind of build her activism and intolerance of not getting equal treatment. DZ: IT now has a dean, a woman, out there at job fairs trying to recruit girls in, but back then it must have been very, very tough. ERM: It was. You know, you’d have a long… the initial two years were pretty similar. I was engineering and Dixie was mathematics. You had all your calculus, three years of that, or two years of that and then physics, and so for the first two years you were in the very large classes. It would be like 150 people in your lecture hall. I was the only woman in that whole hall. DZ: My goodness! ERM: I was the only one that graduated in mechanical engineering in my year, and that was in 1974, so, you know… They had more women in her field, but it was still pretty low numbers. DZ: So you were the only one out of 500, or how many would you say? ERM: There was probably, I don’t remember exactly. I think in the 400-500 for just our college, just the mechanical engineering piece. I mean there were other women, but if there was a dozen in the whole program that graduated that year, I’d be surprised, over all the colleges. So, it was very limited, very limited. DZ: That’s an interesting story, in itself.

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ERM: Though I found the professors were always very supportive; there was never any problem there. DZ: Something in the interviews I ask everybody about. Tell me about religion – What did you grow up with as a religion? Was it Christian, was it Buddhism? ERM: Dad was a Catholic, so we were raised Catholic. I can’t say we are extremely devout, but that was our religion. You come to your own decision on what you’re going to do there. [Laughter] DZ: When you were going to Osseo High School – were you living in Osseo, then? Paul was from Minneapolis, originally. ERM: Right. When we very first returned, we lived in South Minneapolis – that’s where his sisters were, my aunts. And then we moved out to the Crystal area, went to Robbinsdale school district, and then moved out to Osseo, where we graduated. So, we lived in those areas. DZ: Tell me about jobs. You both were able to really get into male dominated areas. So, what happened when Dixie graduated, what did she get as a job offer? ERM: OK, when she graduated, she was interviewed and hired by, at the time, Northwestern Bell, now US West Communications, now Qwest Communications, now CenturyLink – they’ve been bought out. But, that was the local telephone utility at the time, and was hired as an engineer. Her first assignment was in Rochester, and she was the only woman engineer in that office. I came along a couple years later and also was hired as an engineer, and once again there were very few women as engineers. There’d be women there in the support staff, the clerical functions, but not as an engineer. So, there was the men in the structure, the management, the managers and the directors really had a hard time, because they had spent all these years with men, and had a difficult time at first adjusting and treating us equally. Because – I know we did talk about this a lot – when we’d be at meetings, there’d always be someone that would be there with you, and you would raise your point or make your issue or debate the issue, and it was just like you hadn’t spoken at all. And then the man next to you would say almost the same thing, and then it was a big deal. So, we talked about that often, how we were really the invisible force, and that’s where, at her memorial, you just think – it was a lot of things she pushed on that wall, and see that would have been now, see like ’74, ’75. It’s almost forty years since then, but every little thing that she pushed on or made headway, women of today just don’t realize how different it was. Today, with all the streamlining of organizations, they have to listen to the women, because there aren’t five more people from that same department, so that’s helped. DZ: As an engineer in Rochester, what did Dixie do at Northwest Bell? ERM: Her job was to plan and design the cable infrastructure to provide your telephones out to your homes, so she would have to go out and forecast when they needed reinforced cables and that sort of thing. Write up an estimate of the capital program, present that to get funds for that project, and then work with the construction team to get it done on time and within budget.
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DZ: How about yourself Ellen? What job did you find? ERM: Actually, it was very similar. When I joined I went into what they called the central office engineering. She was in the outside, you know, the cables between the homes. DZ: So you were both at Northwest? ERM: Yes, actually, I went there too. I was hired – we were both hired – they called it the IMDP – Initial Management Development Program – so it was a fast-paced program to move you up in the organization - we were both hired on that program. DZ: So were you both down in Rochester? ERM: No, I was in Minneapolis. DZ: Was the headquarters in Minneapolis. ERM: Yes. I was just in kind of a different area of engineering. My job was to design and size the central offices that actually switched the calls, which are today – you just know them as big computers that handle that. So, that was my job – we just… she did it for cables and I did it for the central office equipment. DZ: A question for Mary Jane. How do you say your dad’s name? MJL: Fuahau. DZ: How did Dixie meet Fuahau? ERM: Dixie went to a conference in Tonga. Can you tell me the organization? HL: The organization was PPSEAWA. Pan-Pacific Southeast Asia Women Association. ERM: And this was probably her third or fourth conference that she went to. Before, I think she had gone to Thailand, and Bali, then Tonga. She went to New Zealand afterward. So, she was very active in that, and she met him there. DZ: How old was she when she was doing these trips? ERM: Well, when were they get married? About fifteen, eighteen, twenty years ago? This would have been in the 90s. But that was actually very late in her career of activism. Much earlier on she had been to Africa a few times as part of, as she described it, the United Nations Women’s Initiative. And I wish I could tell you more about that… she went to Africa twice, and another country, and that was the term she used, so there must be a formal initiative to advance women’s rights in the world. Unfortunately, I don’t know much more than that.

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DZ: Well, let’s move into talking about Dixie’s social action. How long was she at Northwest Bell? ERM: I think she was probably at Northwestern Bell for maybe sixteen or eighteen years. DZ: So, this other part of her life began when she’s working at Northwest Bell, but she’s beginning to move into global women’s issues. ERM: Right. She was very active all during her working career. DZ: How did her social activism start? ERM: Well, I think just working in a large corporation, which is what the utility was, and seeing all the male dominated management and the kind of unequal treatment that we were getting. Now, I believe we were getting paid a little less, too, as women engineers. She had a couple instances where, you know, they would have social organizations which were men only, and she insisted on being there and so they quit it, and they were all very unhappy with her. So, basically, she got, ended up, really sacrificing her career for standing up for what was right and fair. Because, you became labeled – because she could not step away from something that she felt was unfair. In a corporation, unfortunately, in order to get along, you end up having to kind of give up on some of your positions, and Dixie could not do that when it came to fairness and equality, so… I think that’s where it kind of started [chuckles] in the ‘70s, early ‘70s. DZ: Did she hit glass ceilings? Did she experience being passed over, men promoted around her? ERM: Somewhat. I think because she started getting active and challenging things for other women, too, but insisting that pay be equitable, you know – that the raises be the same as what the men got. You know, we used to hear – Oh, but they have to support a family, so that’s why they would get the higher raises, despite the results, and, you know, so she would take that on and work through HR, but within a corporation, that’s not the place to go. I think she even had to bring EEOC in once or twice. And you become an outsider in the corporation. So, in that sense, it became kind of unbearable. She ended up having to leave, so it cost her her career in that sense, yes. DZ: So, she found her way into some networks to work on women’s issues. What do we know about how that got started, or which one… let’s start Tonga. Let’s give you a little break here – let’s bring the girls in. let’s backtrack a bit, for both of you. What are your early memories of growing up with your mother? MJL: Like in Tonga. At the house they rented? The first time, I think, right after they got married, and they came for the honeymoon. That was my earliest memory, meeting her. It wasn’t right away before we met, but it was the first time meeting her. HL: Yeah.

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MJL: It was very… our childhood memories are not very nice at all, but for her to, you know, be able to come in and step in through all that we didn’t have at that time was very uplifting, when she was there. But after that, finding out that we were leaving Tonga, ‘cause all five of us, my brothers and sisters, lived in Tonga for a about a year-and-a-half, under guardianship of my biological mom. But that didn’t work out, so we – my father and Dixie – and they decided to bring us back to the States. HL: But they didn’t do it. They sent our aunt to Tonga to get us, because our biological mom had the problem. You know, she just had ways of, like, preventing our dad from getting us. DZ: Your dad. How did he get here to the US? MJL: I don’t know. I’ve asked him multiple times. [Chuckles] DZ: Your dad is from Tonga. And now he lives in Brooklyn Park. How did he get to leave Tonga? MJL: I don’t really know. All that I know is 1986 Reagan granted amnesty for all immigrants, and that’s all he tells us. That’s how he got his green card. That’s all I know. So, he hasn’t fully told me how he got here. All I know is that they did, yes. DZ: So, I am guessing – it sounds like maybe your father was here in the US and he was illegal and things were toughening up. You had to show more paperwork. ERM: Is this when he was living in California? MJL: This is when we lived in California. DZ: So your father somehow had come from Tonga to California. So how did Dixie meet your dad? MJL: At a conference, a PPSEAWA conference. In Tonga. It was at a bar. ERM: I don’t know exactly where I know this from but Dixie would state that Fuahau spotted her and was like a tick on a dog. He came right up to her and something about her, he was just right there, and that was that. HL: And they have this saying they used to say. I asked them – Why do you always say “shake a leg”? And, I think it was how Dad talked to Mom “shake a leg” on the dance floor. ERM: It was probably one of the parties or something as part of the conference. HL: Because she taught us a dance, the line dance.

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MJL: The country electric slide. HL: Yes. Electric slide. DZ: So they met at a conference in Tonga. She danced well, and he was a tick on the dog, love at first sight. ERM: So Mary Jane, how old were you when they met? MJL: I was eight, everyone is a year apart. I was eight, Sifa was seven, Fredrina was six, Helemine was five, and Philip was four. DZ: Philip Latu I have met. So Dixie is not the blood mother of any of you, is that correct? MJL: Yes. HL: Yes. DZ: So you all have the same blood mother in Tonga. But Dixie became your… how did you refer to her - mother - mom? MJL: She’s my mom. DZ: Dixie had an instant family of one, two, three, four, and five… MJL: Five kids. DZ: Sifa. I don’t think I have met him. MJL: Yeah, that’s our brother. Joseph in English. DZ: Does he live here? MJL: No, he’s in San Francisco. DZ: OK, that’s why I haven’t seen him. I met you because you spoke at Asian events at the Capitol. Dixie brought you out to events. And I’ve made a link with Phillip, too, because of his performance art and hip-hop. Let’s see what we can learn of things Dixie was involved in like Pan-Asian American Voices for Equality – PAVE. What do any of you know about Dixie’s work with that? MJL: PAVE was just another organization that Dixie was very passionate about, especially within the city – the community in Minneapolis. Otherwise, I just remember that, late-night meetings, she would take us there and half of the time I tried to listen, but… I was too young. I didn’t understand.

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DZ: How old were you – twelve? MJL: When we came to Minnesota, back in ’97, she instantly had us start going to all these different meetings, so I really didn’t understand until I was twelve. DZ: And you were eight when you first came. MJL: Yeah, I was eight when I came here. DZ: So, you’d go to these meetings. MJL: She was very involved in it. DZ: Any idea of what issues they were working on? ERM: The Miss Saigon protest, was that part of that, or what organization was that – do you know? MJL: I believe that was something separate from PAVE. That’s someone you should talk to – Bao Phi. At the Loft [Loft Literary Center]. He would know a lot about the Miss Saigon protests. DZ: Oh, I know Bao Phi… I was a neighbor to Bao Phi when he was seventeen. ERM: What a small world! [General laughter] DZ: And his mother, his mother had a little gift store. I remember his mother, June. I remember Bao Phi showing me his first poem. He was at South High School back then. And then I went moved and then I ran into him later at events, amazing. Well, let’s pick up the Miss Saigon protest. Tell me about that. MJL: I just remember her telling us. HL: We had to read an article. Number one, Mom always made us read articles about whatever we were going to do. MJL: The portrayal of Asian women in art and theatre, especially having this American who comes into their lives and gets married and then leaves and then it’s just this… just ask… we can always watch Madam Butterfly. I just could not believe I was sitting there and feeling very guilty, ‘cause knowing that my mom was very against portraying women as being helpless, weak, in shows and theatre. But I remember that it was not a good portrayal of Asian women in the community. DZ: Bao Phi is Vietnamese, so he was probably very concerned about how Vietnam is portrayed in Miss Saigon.
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MJL: In Saigon, yes. ERM: And every time Miss Saigon would come to town, she would organize… I’m not sure what organization she did it through, but she would be down there filing a protest of that portrayal. She didn’t care for that. DZ: Were you holding banners outside? MJL: Yes, we had to make banners and posters and paintings. HL: And pamphlets pass them out. She gave that job to us, so they didn’t get in trouble. DZ: So you, as girls, were there with your mom. MJL: Yes. DZ: Tell me about Dixie and the National Organization of Women. MJL: I know she was the Minnesota chapter president. I don’t know what year, quite -- not sure of that. But she was very involved with NOW. ERM: That was back in the 70s on up. I think she was very active then. DZ: Can we try to construct a timeline? What do you think came first? She was going to conferences in Tonga. HL: I think she was still pretty active in most of them. ERM: I think she started with the NOW. MJL: Yup. ERM: And that’s, maybe, through NOW, is how she got on that United Nations initiative. I believe she never quit doing the NOW. That’s where Carol Lewis, as far as recent activities, anyway, on Minnesota NOW, would have more history, but… she took you guys out to Washington, DC, for some NOW protest, I remember, a few years ago? HL: Yeah it was. MJL: Reproductive Rights. HL: This was in Chicago. [Points to the logo on her t-shirt] Sister song. DZ: So you’re wearing a t-shirt from one of these rallies.

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MJL: Yes, national conference rallies. Back in 2003. So I would be still in high school, I would be in school. DZ: Reproductive health, sexual rights – what else does it say? HL: National conference. DZ: And how old were you when you went to that? HL: I was in middle school. DZ: So you were about twelve, thirteen… HL: Seventh grade till eighth. DZ: In an article I was reading about Dixie, it says she worked on resolutions – global feminism, indigenous people’s rights, and sexual harassment. Do you have any memories of any of these issues? ERM: I remember when we were in college – I think, isn’t that when the Cesar Chavez, the grape protests – I think he had maybe made some progress out there, but, you know, she had some protests going up here to don’t buy the grapes, California grapes, in support of that. DZ: In Northwest Bell management you probably weren’t in unions, right? ERM: Not management. Management was not union. DZ: You weren’t in unions, but the unions were really big around the grape boycott. ERM: Well, it was more of just helping those migrant workers get some rights. It got back to the fundamental rights issue, see? Not so much the union, but rights in treating those people properly. I know she was very involved with the Wounded Knee. She felt very strongly about that, so she stayed very active in a lot of the American Indian Movement and the Native American issues here in Minnesota. You know, I think she took you folks always to the powwows. MJL: Yes. ERM: And she had some connection with a lot of the Indian community, too, which, once again, I know she was doing that, but you guys were closer to that. MJL: Yes. ERM: But they would know who she was if you went down and talked to the Mdewakanton Sioux down there at the casino. They would know who she was.

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DZ: Clyde Bellecourt. ERM: She met him and I can’t remember what she had lined up with him at one time, but… HL: Passed away? Did Clyde pass away? DZ: I don’t know. I was teaching at the women’s prison when I met him. They had a protest and they had an honoring dance outside for the women inside. It was amazing. Winona LaDuke? MJL: LaDuke, um hum. DZ: Winona LaDuke and Native American fishing rights, do you have any memories of that? MJL: I think it was before we came along. DZ: Native American issues – do you remember any events you might have gone to or discussions? MJL: I remember when we were very young, you know, textbook said that Christopher Columbus discovered America. One thing Dixie made sure of, that he did not discover America. I think it was fifth grade. HL: I was in third grade, second grade. MJL: She just wanted to let us know the real history, what really happened. That he did not discover America, he explored America. Exploited a lot of the Native American culture, but she kept us aware of the social issues, especially the Native American culture, which I wish I knew more. HL: What’s her friend’s name? MJL: Sherry Wilson that lives in Wisconsin. HL: She and Dixie were probably involved in that. DZ: Tell me about Sherry Wilson. Sherry Wilson is somebody she worked with? MJL: Yes. HL: On Native American issues… anything… MJL: Sherry Wilson is in Wisconsin. DZ: There is a mention of Sister Song. What is Sister Song? HL: We went to the conference, Chicago. Mary. You’re older, you weren’t there.
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MJL: All of the group… it’s awareness for women of color, that they have the rights for reproductive health. There was something going on in Atlanta, Georgia, that’s where they’re based. Otherwise, they were trying to have more organizations be around the Midwest, and Dixie was trying to have that started here in Minneapolis, but that didn’t work out. So, I don’t know if they’re still up and going, but she was very huge on that. DZ: Tell me about the Boot Jack Saddle Club. What is that… she loved horses. ERM: Right. As I mentioned, Dad had horses, we had horses the whole time we grew up, and as adults we kept riding and showing horses. And Dixie enjoyed that, too. She gave it up as she got more and more active in these organizations, but the Boot Jack Saddle Club was our local saddle club that we ran and so the impact of, once again, her social activism on the club was they would have… the association would have a queen and a princess representing clubs in a queen contest. And in deference to her, ‘cause she said no we don’t… ‘cause generally it was just looks on the women, and she says, no, they shouldn’t be like that. And this overflowed into beauty pageants, too. She didn’t support, you know, like the Miss America and things, when it was strictly a beauty pageant. But as our local saddle club, because she felt so strongly about it, we eliminated and do not have a queen and princess in our club. We can have a representative if someone so chooses, but we don’t support the “queen” concept, because of all her concern about that. So it reflects in very subtle ways, but her feeling about that was very strong. Even though we were all queens at one point in time, you know, we were the queens and rodeo queens, but as she grew and developed in that, she really… in deference to that we ended that process for our group, anyway. DZ: It sounds like the issues with the saddle club are similar to the Winter Carnival? HL: Yes. ERM: Actually, our saddle club was just a small thing out of respect for her thoughts, you know. We abolished our queen thing, but she took on the organization. The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is a big deal in Saint Paul. It’s been going on forever, and she just could not tolerate the fact that the king was always a well-established successful businessman, generally older, and then there’d be the nice looking woman with no necessary business credentials or success rate behind her, and so that just bothered her so she took that on, too, but I was not involved with it. I know she went to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival organizers and took it on. Matter of fact, one of my friends from the telephone company – some of them knew Dixie also – and when Dixie passed, one of her cards said, I’m sorry to hear that, and when they talked about Dixie they coined that phrase in that last year when she was sick as a social activist. That’s the term that she called herself. And I went, yes, that is what it is, right? A social activist. Social causes were her thing, and so my friend, when she wrote a sympathy card she said, yes, I’m sorry to hear about Dixie’s passing, but… ‘cause this woman was a Saint Paul resident and actually her husband was involved in some of this organization in Saint Paul – and she said – we had some very interesting discussions about the Saint Paul Winter Carnival royalty. So, even in passing, people remembered her for those sorts of things, because she was not going to let go.
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DZ: What do they call these guys they have black all over their face that go around… ERM: The Vulcans. DZ: The Vulcans. They think they can kiss all of the women and everybody gets very upset with them. ERM: Well, even that, you know, whether she started this or not, but just the awareness of the unequal treatment of women in that whole process. You know, people now, when they do their thing in the bars as part of the carnival, they are starting to say – No! And they actually had some legal issues and they had to shut a lot of that down, so whether she started that, just being aware and challenging that, became just a thing that women would not tolerate any more. I think she was a forerunner in challenging those things. DZ: Let’s talk about culture in the family. I’ve been to your graduations. What is Pacific Islander in the way that your family celebrates comes together? Are there things that stand out? MJL: For our celebrations, time together? DZ: Like, in my family I became aware, because my father was Swedish, there was a lot of stuff going on that was Swedish… even though we were in London, and we were having a SwedishChristmas. What about events in your family – were there things that were particularly Tongan or Hawaiian? MJL: I think when we were growing up my mom had a lot of respect to the Tongan culture, especially for my dad. He had certain rules for girls, for us. HL: No Sleepovers. MJL: Like no sleepovers. No dating – which Dixie understood very well to respect the culture difference with my dad and herself, but I think she knew how to balance both very well. I think keeping the peace within the family, with my dad, and how we were also exposed to the American culture, especially outside of home. It was very hard at first, growing up, but as time went on I think Dixie had a lot of influence on my dad, how to be more open-minded. ERM: It was hard for him. MJL: I believe it was hard for him, but I think he grew more accepting of how to raise us. Cause we were raised Catholic. Even though my dad had never went with us to church. He decided to stay home and watch TV, because he’s Methodist, so… Dixie took us to the Catholic Church. MJL: Religion – that’s how we grew up. DZ: I’m finding rugby is huge among the Samoans: Faamati was down in Las Vegas when the Samoan team was playing New Zealand. Your dad, is he keen on soccer or rugby?
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HL: He used to play – we don’t know if it’s true or not, but he told Mom and Mom told us that Dad used to be a rugby player for Tonga, but then he couldn’t play any more because of his leg. MJL: He had an injury. HL: Injury, yeah. MJL: Or was it his arm? HL: I don’t know. MJL: Me, neither. That’s one thing. I wish I knew how to speak Tongan fluently so I can speak to him, like I have to stop each time and… think what’s that word? Can’t think of it, so it slows our conversations down. DZ: How many Tongans do you think are here? MJL: I would say about a hundred. DZ: How about Hawaiians? Five hundred? HL: I think a lot more, to be honest. MJL: A lot more Hawaiians are here than Tongans. HL: Um… a lot of Hawaiians are either half-Hawaiian or something, so, more than 500, maybe. DZ: Did Dixie belong to any organizations that were Hawaiian cultural associations, I remember her from the Dragon Boat days. It was so hot and she was right out in the sun with a little display booth. HL: That was PPSEAWA. I think she really wants a lot of Pacific Islanders to join the organization. MJL: The Pan-Pacific Southeast Women Association. DZ: Do you know where that’s based? MJL: It’s based in New York. That’s our headquarters here in the United States. But they’re across the nation, everywhere. There’s New Zealand, and Tonga. It’s an IGO organization and they meet every year, every four years, so this year we’ll be in Fiji. HL: Yes. MJL: Fiji 2013, that’s their next conference.
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DZ: Fiji, 2013 – Let’s go. [Chuckles] ERM: The last one was New Zealand that she was planning to go, wasn’t it. HL: She did go. ERM: Oh, she did go, that’s right. MJL: And then the one after that… HL: Was Malaysia. MJL: Yes. DZ: Did any of you girls go? HL: We almost went, well Freddy and I, but it came down to the money, so she just left us in Hawaii for two weeks when she went. DZ: Oh, that wasn’t too bad! ERM: She got them that far! [General laughter] And she went further, and the other two stayed behind. DZ: Who do you have as relatives in Hawaii? ERM: Dixie’s relatives. All of her mother’s family is there. The Chuns are all in Hawaii, on Oahu, so she had mom and… that was a family of five, so there was two uncles and three aunts in Hawaii, then all of their cousins now, so the whole family, extended family, probably ninetynine percent are still there. A few are in California, but I’d say probably there’s only four that are no longer in Hawaii – they’re all in Hawaii. DZ: Oahu? ERM: Honolulu. They’re all on Oahu. DZ: Did the ancestors first come for sugar plantation work or that side of the family in their history? ERM: Way back, the initial China men that came, what did we figure, two generations back from Mom? They came to work the pineapple fields, this was a Chinese man, and you know what the stereotype of Chinese – five-foot-two, about a hundred pounds. Well, he was a six-foot Chinese man with big bones, a big man, and so he became the bodyguard for one of the pineapple plantation owners. So, instead of working in the fields, because of his stature, that’s

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the job he got and then stayed here from there. And that was back when all of the Chinese were coming to Hawaii at the time. DZ: You hear about picture-book wives, wives are coming from China, they haven’t met, but it was very difficult, how the Chinese men generations ago got their wives. ERM: There were so many Chinese that came over, so whether he sent back for them, I don’t recall. But I do know that my grandmother, Dixie’s grandmother, was a second wife. You know, in the Chinese hierarchy, there’s the first wife, the privileged family, and then they were the second family, the second wife. And that’s the sort of things they never talked about, and so it came up, I think, when my grandmother died. They talked about that she was the second wife, and then the aunts would say how they were jealous of the other family ‘cause they always got everything, and they were the second family so they didn’t. So that’s when those things were… never talked about it. You know, it’s one of those subjects– your dad doesn’t talk about some things. They just don’t talk about that. DZ: Are there any other issues that we have not spoken about. For example, we talked about how family time was important. MJL: With Dixie, aside from her huge involvement with the social part of her life, she was a huge family-oriented person. Having five children, she made sure that we were also involved outside of school activities. For myself – I was doing orchestra, doing some sports, and then whatever we already have, there’s family dinner every night. HL: Yes. MJL: Even though if it’s at eleven p.m. or midnight or one. Family time was very important for Dixie. Also wanting us to know… letting us know our family history, especially the Irish side. Aloysius. I remember she would have folders filled with notes… this is the family tree: Aloysius, Bernice, and then before like our great-grandparents. Like, she was very curious about the family, and how, I believe, it impacted Minneapolis with businesses etc. DZ: Mary Jane, I hear you are going to visit Ireland. MJL: Yes, I am, for ten days, the U of M is going to Ireland – I just found that out recently. It’s a huge group going to Ireland. I think it will be a very good experience. DZ: Tell me about your Irish heritage. What do you know? MJL: Well, I feel like I adopted the Irishness from being in the Riley family. I just feel the amazingly culture itself and, like, exploring it through the Irish festival, through going to Mike Whelan’s dancing. I feel like it’s just part of me… the stories she tells me and the concept of family is very strong. Even grandpa. There’s just the Rileys. That name just resonates of family and being grounded. DZ: My wife’s Irish, and her ancestors came because of the famine, the huge Irish famine.
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A million died, a million left Ireland to come to America. ERM: That’s how the Rileys got here, too. DZ: Is it? MJL: Her influence on me, as being the eldest, keeping the family traditions, you know, somewhat alive – that’s a huge task, I’m trying to learn to fill… but I have time. DZ: Was your mother’s death an unexpected event? MJL: Yes. Very unexpected, to me. DZ: This part of carrying the tradition on… in my family we sang this song at Christmas, you know. It was like pidgin Swedish, you know. [General laughter] [Sings a few syllables] And when my father died, and when… he died I went home for Christmas. I realized that somebody would have to sing that song. It wasn’t my older brother. It was me, keeping that tradition going around the table. Little things like that. Ellen, what would you like to say – what issues have we not talked about? ERM: I think I would like to add on to a few things that Mary talked about. Dixie was very… I mean, I saw it in her taking on Fuahau’s five children, and when you hear them, she was mom, and that’s all there is to it, for the whole family. That’s quite an undertaking, ‘cause we weren’t young at the time. She was probably forty, something like that… thirty-eight, forty years old, and taking on five children. But, she just jumped right into it. She was just so involved with her family, and she also took care of my kids, or made sure they got out to some of these community activities, too, when they were little. But part of the things that she would always incorporate her beliefs into taking care of the family. The reason they live in Brooklyn Park versus further out into the suburbs was so that there would be a greater mix of ethnicity in that area. So, you wouldn’t be the only ones that maybe looked different. So, that was a big part for her. I think she made a lot of sacrifices for her activism. It impacted on her family life. For us, as her family, at Christmas and holidays we’d sometimes have to temper her down, because she’d get going on her issues so we’d say – OK, we’ve gotta stop now, because we want this to be a fun time, ‘cause her issues weren’t things that could be fixed overnight. But, it was all, you know, we recognized it and acknowledged her, but then OK, that’s that, we need to move on, to keep this a fun party. [Chuckles] Right, right. But, I do know that she sacrificed, because in a former relationship, that ended as a result of her activism and probably the Minnesota NOW in the 70s, and I’m sure there was probably some stress at your home, because she was gone all the time, and the demands on the family, I’m sure that stressed some things, too, at your place, so… She sacrificed continually for her beliefs. DZ: So in the previous relationship, somebody that just couldn’t cope with having a really assertive partner?

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ERM: No, that part was fine, but just the being gone all the time for these activities that just got to be old. They were together for quite a few years, but it just got to be old because she just wasn’t there enough, when you’re so involved in all those activities. Late-night meetings – it’s no joke. One of her friends used to say – Yup… who was… they used to… I’m trying to think… there was another lady that used to be with them. Whatever the timeline was, it was always, well, when they would show up they were on their own timeline, because they were continually going to these things, so they would show up when they would show up. [Laughter] ‘Cause they always had five other meetings they were at before they got to. So, it impacted on some of her family life. So, she gave that up, too, as well as really her… a career that she might have had, you know, she sacrificed that for the causes. You know, after she passed, one of things as we reflected on it, when she said she was a social activist, I said, you know – Thank goodness for people like her, because the issues she takes on don’t change overnight. You can… it just takes years and years of just continually bringing it to light, being active, and making it, as people get more educated about it, because it’s not like OK pass a law, it’s all fixed. You’ll get rights and you’ll get treated equally. It’s long and painful, so in that sense, thank goodness there were people like her out there, pushing the envelope. For whatever the causes were, ‘cause they weren’t just Asians or Hawaiians – it doesn’t matter what the minority was, she was there to support them, so… It’s pretty intimidating to think about all of the things she was involved in. DZ: That’s a nice image, though. Family discussions, and one member, sometimes that might be me at home, going off – and oh, lighten up! [General laughter] ERM: Exactly. DZ: Ellen, how many children do you have? ERM: I have two boys. DZ: How old are they? ERM: Probably 25 and 27… Mary Jane, how old are you now? MJL: I’m twenty-five. ERM: Twenty-five. So mine were a couple years older. DZ: Helemine, what would your closing comment like to be, about your mom? HL: There’s a lot to be said about Mom. She always encouraged us, even though, I feel like, honestly, that Mary Jane was the older, so she was always finding her way to be busy during high school, middle school, softball team, blah blah team. You even joined mock trial, so you were busy. So, me and my younger brother Philip were always the two that Mom would be like – You don’t have a choice. You have to come with me after school to these events. You don’t really have a choice. So, I think it was high school when I actually started realizing that what I
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was going to events. It wasn’t just for food. Mom always said Helemine, there’s free food – let’s go! OK, bro, let’s go. But the meaning of her work really started impacting me in high school. I would get in trouble in elementary for things like when I made my fellow bus riders sign a petition because I didn’t like my bus driver and I’m just doing it ‘cause I don’t like him, but I thought she would get mad ‘cause I was suspended, but instead she said – I’m really proud of you, and I still didn’t understand why until now, in high school, getting older. I just want people to know that her work impacted all five of us. We’re seriously all talking to each other and asking each other what you are doing to get involved in the community and like Dixie make some change. DZ: So getting your petition signed, it’s like you learned how to do this… from your mom. HL: Yeah. DZ: I’ve enjoyed this interview and I’m so glad that we met, so we have her story. When Ilean Her gave me a list of people to consider for the Pacific Islander oral histories she wanted me to try to get Dixie’s story. I am very pleased that we’ve got it. Ellen, any final thoughts about your sister? ERM: Well, I think I’m just totally impressed that her legacy lives on. Unfortunately I don’t know all the people in the organizations she was in– just the other day Carol Lewis and I were talking and Carol… had gone to a human rights organization, and they were all asking about Dixie, because none of them had heard that she had passed, so she was letting them know, because they said – Where is she? Because Dixie would normally always be there, and so, the fact that people are picking this up and this is getting documented I think is terrific. I’m totally in awe. So, that’s great. DZ: Thank you all for being here and sharing, thank you very much.

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