By Linda Mitchell
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Velma Veloria, who served as state representative for Southeast Seattle’s 11th District from 1992 to 2004, was one of nine outstanding women leaders that received a 2011 Women of Courage award, presented by the National Women’s Political Caucus. She was nominated for the award by the Washington state chapter of the NWPC.
The Women of Courage Awards are presented to women from diverse backgrounds who have demonstrated courage by taking a stand to further civil rights and equality, and who exemplify women’s leadership. Veloria received her award at the NWPC Diversity Reception at the NWPC’s 40th Anniversary Convention on July 29, in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Hilda Solis was scheduled to attend and present the awards, but she was unable to be there due to the death of a close friend. Her comments, read by Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs Sharon Block, acknowledged the contributions of the awardees and recalled the strides that women have made since the days of the suffragettes, Rosie the Riveter, and the founding mothers of the NWPC.
“We’re moving closer and closer to the kind of true equality that our heroines — women like Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul — imagined for us when they waged the fight for suffrage generations ago. Each and every one of you played a role in achieving this remarkable progress.”
Solis, in her statement, called on the women present to “stand and give each other a hand for how far we’ve come.”
Veloria immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1961, grew up and attended college in the Bay Area, and she became an activist through her participation in the anti-war and Asian American student movements in the late 1960s. She worked as an organizer for several major labor organizations, including the OPEIU, ILWU, and SEIU.
She is the first Filipino American elected to a state legislature in the continental United States and is passionate about issues regarding education, health care, domestic violence, and women’s rights. In 2003, Veloria was instrumental in passing the first bill in the country making human trafficking a crime at the state level.
Washington is one of the top human-trafficking destinations in the United States, with its easily accessed public ports, long international border, and close proximity to Asia. More than 50,000 women and children are sold, tricked, or forced into sexual slavery every year in the United States.
Veloria currently teaches political engagement at South Seattle Community College, where she focuses on giving immigrants a political voice and has recently helped to organize the Coalition of Immigrants and Refugees 98118, named for one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation. The newly formed coalition is working to engage the diverse community where Veloria lives in the political process.
She is also a faculty member for the 2012 Project at Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, a non-partisan campaign to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures.
Other NWPC 2011 Women of Courage are Pakistani women’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Rubina Feroze Bhatti; author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Edie Fraser; Minority Leader, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi; past (and youngest) director of the Women’s Bureau and secretary of labor, Alexis Herman; feminist filmmaker and actress, Kamala Lopez; first president of the Women’s Action Organization (WAO) of the State Department, Ambassador Mary Olmsted; Secretary of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus, named one of the state’s 100 Top Influencers by Politics & Campaign Magazine, Joyce Ferriabough Bolling; and Latino activist, historian, and early member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Himilce Novas. ♦
Linda Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com.