Eunice Sato, the first Asian American woman to serve as mayor of a major American city (Long Beach, California), died last week at 99, just four months away from her 100th birthday, The Press-Telegram reports.
Her daughter said that Sato was scheduled to receive her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine the following day.
Sato was deeply involved with her community before and after her mayoral term (1980 – 1982) and served as an inspiration to many Asian American women. Though she never intended to run for office, many encouraged her to campaign for a seat on the Seventh District City Council, which she ultimately won in 1975, according to Long Beach Post.
“She was so deeply involved in the community, and when she spoke, everyone listened,” former Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill said to The Press-Telegram.
Even after Sato left the council, she continued to commit herself to bettering Long Beach, serving as the president of the California Conference for Equality and Justice, an organization that works towards “end[ing] discrimination, oppression and injustice.”
She was later appointed to three different state commissions by former Governor of California George Deukmejian, and in 1991, former President George W. Bush appointed her to the National Advisory Council on Educational Research.
“After leaving office, she continued to be active in the community for many years,” Sato’s daughter said to The Press-Telegram. “Her faith, positivity and energy sustained her lifelong commitment to her community and her country.”
For her contributions to Japan-U.S. relations, the Japanese government awarded Sato with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette in 1996. In 2015, Long Beach Unified School District named Sato Academy of Mathematics and Science after her — the first school in the district to be named for an Asian American.
Despite the many difficulties Sato faced as a daughter of Japanese immigrants during World War II, she found pride in her culture and her heritage.
“It isn’t necessary or required that I reveal my (Nisei) background, but I do that because I am neither ashamed of it nor afraid to face any obstacles or discrimination as a result,” she wrote in an essay for Columbia University Teacher’s College, according to The Press-Telegram. “I am convinced that if one community is too narrow and prejudiced to have me because of my cultural background, there will be another somewhere that believes in true democracy and desires to see it in action as well as in words.”
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