3RP Salutes Beate Sirota Gordon for Women’s History Month 2022
In honor of Women’s History Month 2022, Three Rooms Press salutes the incredible Beate Sirota Gordon, whose biography, LAST BOAT TO YOKOHAMA by Nassrine Azimi and Michel Wasserman, we were proud to publish in English in 2015, and in Persian (with translation to Farsi by Golrokh Golshan) in 2019.
Beate is legendary for her efforts, at age 22, when she helped write the post-World War II Japanese Constitution at the request of General Douglas MacArthur. Specifically, she made certain that the constitution included an article that guaranteed equality between men and women, and prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex.
Subsequently, she worked for more than forty years at introducing American audiences to Asian culture, including music, dance, and theatre. As her close friend, Yoko Ono, stated, “All of us have a lot to learn from Beate Gordon—a woman with the courage to match her convictions.”
One person particularly impressed with this incredible woman was Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. At a 2013 celebration of the life of Beate Sirota Gordon at New York’s Asia Society, Justice Sotomayor presented comments which she kindly allowed us to reprint in LAST BOAT TO YOKOHAMA.
An excerpt of her commentary is particularly potent today and is presented below.
Afterword to Last Boat to Yokohama
by Sonia Sotomayor
Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States
I met Beate Gordon through her accomplished daughter Nicole Gordon, with whom I had had the pleasure to work on the establishment of public financing of New York City elections in the 1980s. During many social functions at Nicole’s home, Beate, was always present. Simply looking at the twinkle in her eyes, I knew that there was something very special about this highly charming, cultured, and gracious woman. It was not until I had the good fortune to read her fascinating memoir, The Only Woman in the Room, that I realized that the exceptional daughter, Nicole, was the product of an even more exceptional mother.
As many of you may know, Beate lived in Japan with her parents for over ten years as a child. She came to the United States by herself for her secondary education when she was not yet sixteen years old. After World War II, she returned to Japan to work as an interpreter for the military and to look for her parents, whom she eventually found. In her interpreter’s role, she won the hearts of both the Japanese and American representatives drafting the new Japanese Constitution and convinced them to do something extraordinary. She persuaded them to include two provisions in the new Constitution that the United States Constitution lacks to this day. Articles 14 and 24, which the delegates included at her urging, guaranteed equality between men and women, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex and required mutual consent for and equal treatment in marriage.
What a path-breaking woman Beate was at such a young age. But this was only the beginning. She spent the rest of her life advocating for women’s rights and promoting cultural understanding between Japan and the United States.
There are many people who live in foreign lands and never make the effort to understand and become part of the cultures of the places they live. Beate was not one of those people. Having lived in two nations far from her Austrian birth, Beate adopted both Japan and the United States as her own. She loved them, and did everything in her power to open the door of understanding and appreciation between the cultures of each of her adopted countries. Others today will speak in more detail of her extensive work bringing Asian performing arts to the United States and her efforts as a women’s rights advocate. It suffices for me to say that it takes a special kind of person to have lived life with so much passion, and given to two countries as much as Beate did.
I felt privileged in having gotten to know Beate. It is rare life treat for a Supreme Court Justice to get to meet a framer of a Constitution. It is rarer indeed for that framer to have been a woman. More importantly, however, Beate helped teach me how to live fully in two cultures, and make both my home. I suspect that just as I say that I am an American with a Puerto Rican heart, Beate was an American with a Japanese heart.
The world has lost a special star in Beate’s passing, but the legacy of friendship and understanding she left behind will immortalize her spirit.
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, April 28, 2013
From a transcript of commentary presented during the 2013 celebration of Beate’s life and legacy at Asia Society.
Last Boat to Yokohama: The Life and Legacy of Beate Sirota Gordon is available from Amazon and directly from Three Rooms Press.