I had just finished working the day at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii where I served as the Director of External Relations. It was another long day full of meetings, issues to resolve, and fires to put out. I was tired but I was grateful. Grateful to be in a leadership position and doing work that I loved straight out of law school. I was serving the community, helping people, and I thought I was doing good in the world. I was living out what I said I was going to do before I started law school. As much as I loved the work, the pay didn’t go as far as I expected living in one of the most expensive states in the country. The entry level pay for a staff attorney/director position at that time was $37,000 per year and minus family health care expenses and other benefits, I really didn’t take home much. I saved on parking expenses by riding my bike to work and I was lucky I lived close enough to be able to do it. I hopped on my bike and started the ride home.
My wife was home cooking dinner. My daughter was almost 2 at the time. We were splitting the condo we rented with a good friend of mine and his young family. It allowed us both to save some money on the rent. My wife and I had discussed before about her going back to work. She worked as a nurse before and I thought our problems would be solved if she was able to go back to work again. She started the job search and when she did the math, she realized that the cost of putting our daughter in a quality day care full-time was just about how much she would earn if she went back to work. Of course it didn’t make much sense so we decided it would be better off if she stayed home to take care of our daughter and I would figure it out. I had decided I would go back to work at Macy’s in the evenings like I did before when the extra income helped get me through law school.
I ate a quick dinner and kissed my wife and daughter as I made my way out. I hopped on my bike and pedaled the 20 minutes to the Macy’s department store in Waikiki for the evening shift. The store opened late to accommodate tourists who were enjoying their vacations and needed to shop. I worked in the women’s shoe department and I wasn’t the only one who did it as a second job. Our cleaning lady was a Filipina woman in her late 60s and for her this was her third job for the day. She would hop on the bus at nearly 5 in the morning and start her day and end it with the rest of us at midnight.
Working at the Macy’s women’s shoes department had its memorable moments and now, women are surprised when I can compliment them on their shoes and guess the brand correctly. But I could only do it for so long, there were nights when I just felt dizzy from exhaustion. Riding my bike home past midnight to find my wife and daughter already asleep, I would often wonder if it was even worth it for me to stay in public service law. Fortunately enough, the next year our salaries at Legal Aid were finally adjusted to a more livable wage and I could give up my evening job.
My son was born later that year and when my wife was ready to go back to work, we searched for day-care and pre-schools for the children. I was excited to find a pre-school right next to our office only to find out that the cost for the both of them was more than I made in a month. We finally found a place we were comfortable with and after budgeting for the month, we would just have enough for rent, groceries, and other basic living expenses. There were times when we just barely balanced the checkbook. Later, we were ecstatic when we found out we qualified for a child-care subsidy and just made the cut off by about $50. It was a big help and it gave us some breathing room each month when it came to balancing the budget until both our children completed preschool.
With both of my children now in public elementary school, I wonder how we ever made it through those years having to pay for preschool and child care. I still remember the feeling of sitting in my car looking at our bank statements and wondering what else we needed to cut. I think of all the young families now, just starting out in their careers, who may not qualify for child-care subsidies and need to rely on their parents to watch the kids so they can go to work. I think of the single parents who rely on these subsidies so they can go to work but worry about making too much and later becoming disqualified. I share my story because it is an all too familiar story for so many families in Hawai‘i and across the country. Parents working multiple jobs, balancing child care and careers, and making sure they’re doing everything they can to give their children a chance to succeed.
The price of child care has indeed risen sharply compared to the increase in income. While the research shows that lower-income families experience these cost pressures more than higher-income families, meaning child care cuts more into the budget than in the past, I know from first-hand experience what this means to families in Hawai‘i. In 2016, the average price of center-based child care in Hawai‘i was $11,232 and was the highest in the nation as a percentage of median income for married couples. I am grateful that Hawai‘i is now expanding preschool for 3 and 4 year olds and investing in early education. But it is still not enough as funding and resources are consistently an issue.
Thus, President Biden’s Build Back Better plan to cut child care costs in half for most American families is critical for Hawai‘i. It would ensure that families who earn up to 1.5 times the state’s median income will pay no more than 7% of their income for high quality child care for children under 5. This will free up income for working families for other needs while allowing parents to earn more. In Hawai’i, this could mean a savings of at least $6000 a year per family. Through national-state partnerships, Hawai‘i will have the resources needed to finally offer real universal preschool for all families and reduce the cost of childcare in the state.
Having these options available when our own children were preschool age and younger would have allowed my wife the option of going back to work earlier. It would have saved so much stress and worry in wondering if we would be able to make it financially for the month. These real life experiences of working multiple jobs, deciding between going back to work or caring for young children at home, and juggling financially to afford child care and preschool is an experience I share with millions of working families across the country. It’s time we invest in our young families and young children. It’s time we invest public dollars in early childhood education and care. It’s an investment that will pay immediate dividends and we can’t afford not to.
By: Ms. Chipo H. Muzorewa, whose late uncle Bishop Abel Muzorewa was the first black prime minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia.
The words empathy, integrity, and leadership effortlessly sum up my impression of Sergio as my former schoolmate at the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS).
As a member of the United Methodist Church from Zimbabwe, my two years at UTS gave me the privilege of spiritual reflection within my own faith but mindful of the mosaic of beliefs in this world through interactions with schoolmates (from various professions), colleagues, faculty and staff from different backgrounds, cultures, nations, races and creeds. The cultural and religious exchange was represented by students from countries including; America, Costa Rica, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, Poland, Russia, Tanzania and Turkey.
During my stay on the pristine and serene campus that encompassed an interfaith chapel, in Upstate New York by the Hudson River, I marveled at the colors of the autumn leaves with the stark mountains in the background and the nature that was shared with flora and fauna (including deer and rabbits). It was this once in a lifetime opportunity that I learned about different doctrines and their common ground in peacebuilding. I had the honor to be taught during my master’s program by faculty whose convictions ranged from Lutheran, Buddhist, Unificationist, Baptist and Islam. It is through these individuals, UTS, and associations including my internships at the US Congress and an NGO affiliated with the United Nations, that I learned of an alternative way through religious diplomacy to make this world a safe place to live, for ourselves and the next generation.
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend." -Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (2010). “The Works of Thomas Jefferson: 1799-1803”, p.130, Cosimo, Inc.
As many have asked about my time in the theological seminary, I share this reflection:
I was the last one in our family to see my dad. He was on the way out for the evening and just as I had always done countless times before, I was ready to tag along. Except this time, he asked me to stay home. Of course this didn’t make sense and as a six year old boy, I was not too happy about it. I had my own plans and snuck into the backseat of the car anyway. My dad didn’t see me hiding in the back and as he was almost out the driveway, I was proud of myself for pulling it off. That is until I heard the screams of my aunt chasing my dad down to tell me I was hiding in the backseat. I was mad she told on me as my dad asked me to get out of the car. I went back inside upset that I couldn’t come with him. That night, my dad was assassinated by a communist hit squad.
It wasn't lost on me that I felt my life was spared that day. I’ve since thanked my aunt for saving me from that tragic evening. Growing up, I’ve always felt that I was given a second chance and that I did not want to waste this life I was given. I remember our family pastor telling me that, “God is the father to the fatherless and the protector of widows.” For me, as a son and a brother trying to navigate life without my dad, this began my own personal journey of faith as I found refuge in these words.
I had hoped to follow along in my father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and continue the tradition of military service. I received a 4 year scholarship from the Air Force and nominations to the service academies. However, I was told that my citizenship was an issue as I did not have my certificate of citizenship and with high school graduation looming, there was not much I could do. With the citizenship process taking years and me being essentially unable to go, I wondered if this was simply a sign that the military was not my path. (Had I entered the military at that time, my graduating class would have been one of the first deployed at the start of the War on Terror. A part of me is grateful that I do not carry that burden on my conscience that many of our veterans bear after experiencing the realities of war.)
Instead, I started school at our local community college before transferring to the university. As I sat with my advisor asking me about my major, there was one burning question that I had, “What was wrong with this world and what can I do to fix it?” I thought I could find answers in my two majors of economics and political science and I enjoyed learning about different systems and theories.
Then 9/11 happened. It was my last semester of college and I sat there watching these planes crash into the World Trade Center over and over again on the news. I walked away thinking what could I do to help? What could I do to prevent something like this from happening again? What could I do against the Islamophobia, the targeting of people that looked like me, and the hate that was gripping our nation? I graduated college without clear answers to all these questions.
I planned on going to law school after college on the encouragement of my professor who appreciated my interest in the law. I moved to the west coast early waiting to hear back from the law schools I applied to. It was here that I first met two young people who stopped me on the street and asked for help with a survey they were doing. Being around the same age, I was happy to oblige. They asked me my thoughts on what we could do to break down barriers between cultures and religions. It was an interesting question and having just graduated, I felt I could give an educated answer. They invited me to a community service project that weekend and being new to the area, I was happy to do something in the community and I’ve always enjoyed service work.
This began my involvement with members of the Unification Movement and I would later find out that it was part of their community outreach activities. I continued with the community service work since I enjoyed planting trees in urban neighborhoods, creating community gardens, and helping tutor high school students who could barely read at a 5th grade level. I was comfortable in my own faith as a Catholic and for the record, I still consider myself a Filipino Catholic and will die Catholic unless I get excommunicated by the pope. But at the time, I was intrigued by their concept of service as a path to peace through their non-profit organization, Service for Peace. The concept was novel to me as the organization held various inter-religious dialogues and brought faith leaders together in Oakland to work towards ending the violence destroying their communities. I came to understand the power that church leaders had over their congregations as many of the youth were willing to listen to their pastors before they listened to authorities.
That summer, I was asked to lead the “Summer of Service” work in Oakland by Service for Peace in partnership with the city and various churches. It was an exhilarating experience as hundreds of volunteers completed nearly 2000 service hours. We painted schools, cleaned up parks, and helped other youth programs throughout the city. For me, I could see first hand how service was transforming not only the community but the participants as well. It did give me hope that if this could work in Oakland, this may work in other places too.
On the other hand, the more I worked with members of the Unification Movement, the more I understood its connection to the Unification Church and the controversy in the 70s and 80s surrounding its founder. Officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, the Unification Church’s history in the US has been controversial. Being too young to know more about it, I relied on information I found online or from listening to comments from strangers. I understood the negativity and weighed it against my own experience working with its members and the impact in the community we were making. I did not believe I was joining another church or religion but cared more about what I could do to make the community better. As the war in Iraq waged on, I thought that this would be my contribution to peace instead.
The next year, I was asked to lead community service efforts in Israel/Palestine under their Middle East Peace Initiative. For nearly 3 months I stayed in the Holy Land and it was an incredible experience working with different religious leaders and community groups. We held community service projects in East Jerusalem and in schools in both Arab, Jewish, and Christian neighborhoods. I saw communities coming together and I was starting to believe that our work could make an impact towards peace here. Praying at the Wailing Wall, the Al Aqsa Mosque, and even at the site where Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead were experiences that gave me hope that peace was possible.
I was able to return a few years later under a sports program that used soccer to bring these communities together. To see kids from Arab and Jewish neighborhoods who started with distrust towards each other begin to play together, I was hopeful that they would remember this moment. I still think of them as they would be in their 20s by now and wonder if they would have become jaded by their military service or if they lost a family member to the fighting. I was even more intrigued by the possibility of bringing such a model to the Philippines where my grandfather and father long fought Muslim extremists and separatists.
This experience and this hope were what brought me to the Unification Theological Seminary. Although founded by the Unification Church, it was billed as an interfaith and inter-religious seminary and had a concentration on peace building that I was particularly interested in. My seminary class included students from 19 different countries and from various faith backgrounds. My professors were theologians and scholars in their own religious faiths. My two years spent on the campus there in upstate New York are memories that I still look fondly upon. To be able to learn more about each other’s cultures and beliefs from all of my classmates has helped me become a better person, more understanding of the world around me, and to see the role that faith and religion can play towards peace instead of being used as vehicles for war and conflict.
After graduation, I decided to step away from working with the Unification Church as I did not agree with many of its values towards the LGBTQ community and especially seeing how many of their members lived impoverished, difficult lives while those at the top of its leadership did not. I still have friends whose parents are members of the church and they live every day, normal lives just like you and me.
I understand and appreciate the role that faith and religion play in people's lives but I believe that people should not be consumed by it. Even more, we should be wary of those that seek to exploit others in the name of religion for their own benefit. For me, religion is simply a man-made construct. What you do with your faith and how you treat others and the world we live in, that’s what’s more important to me. We won’t know for sure what happens at the end until we get there but it takes me back full circle; to that 6 year old boy trying to figure out what to do with his second chance at life. My answer is to simply make the most of the life and the time you have now, don't waste it. What’s wrong with this world and what can I do to fix it? It begins with you, that’s where peace really starts.
My name is Sergio Alcubilla and I am running for Congress to represent Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District (D). When I get there, I will not just be another placeholder taking up space. I will not keep my head low and my mouth shut. There is too much at stake. I go there for a purpose and that is to defend and advocate for the interests of the people and communities I care about.
I am running for Congress because our current representative is going against the interests of everyday working people here in Hawai‘i. By blocking President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, he is going against our values as one of the more progressive states in the country. Instead of working with the President and the Democratic Party to pass this once-in-a generation investment in our people, he is actively working to make it weaker. If he was truly fighting for our interests, he should be saying that this is not enough instead of saying that this is too much. I am stepping up to say that this is unacceptable and it is not right.
It’s not right when our families need help with affordable child care and tax credits. It’s not right when our seniors can’t hear, see, or eat well because their Medicare coverage won’t cover hearing aids, eyeglasses, or dental work. It’s not right when our children are already behind when they start school because universal pre-school isn’t available for them. Blocking the President’s agenda is just not right; it’s not right for the people of Hawai’i, and it’s not right for the people of this country.
I feel so passionate about this because Congressman Ed Case and I look at the world through very different lenses. Although we are both lawyers, his legal background is in corporate law while mine has been focused on serving our working families and most vulnerable communities through my work at the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i for the past 10 years and now advocating for low income workers with the Hawai‘i Workers Center. I have always stood for and with those who feel the odds are stacked against them, for those who feel the weight of living paycheck to paycheck, for those who feel they don't have the power to make their voices heard; because their stories are part of mine.
Like many of our elected leaders and the majority now sitting in Congress, Congressman Case was born into a life of privilege. He doesn’t care to fight harder to support President Biden’s plan because he doesn’t fully understand what our working families in Hawai‘i are going through. I doubt he has ever had to worry about making rent for the month or worry about having enough to pay for groceries at the store. These are life experiences that I doubt if Congressman Case can really understand. These are the real struggles, the hard work and sacrifices, made by so many in our community who sit in the middle to lower rungs of the economic ladder in Hawai‘i and across the country. If Congressman Case really understood, he would be fighting hard to support President Biden and his plan to invest back into the people of this country.
My mother came to America as a single mother, raising six young children on her own after my father was gunned down by a communist hit-squad in the Philippines. As a nurse, she worked multiple jobs and would even rent out our bedrooms to make ends meet. Growing up, I’ll never forget having to raise my hand in school every year to ask for a free and reduced lunch form. When I say I understand what working families go through, I speak from real experience. I know what it means to struggle, I know what our families are going through and that is the voice I want to bring to Congress; the voice of the regular working person, the voice of the parent struggling to pay for child care and pre-school, the voice of a son who worries that his mom can’t afford the most basic medical care during retirement.
I know it will be an uphill battle and I know the incumbent will rally big businesses and corporations and will likely out-spend me. But this campaign will not be won by money, but rather by people; people on the ground going door to door, people on the ground talking to their neighbors, and people showing up to vote on August 13th.
We will raise the money needed to be competitive and raise it not from corporations but from real people. But most of all we will reach out to the disaffected, those who feel powerless, and those who feel their voices aren’t being heard and ask them to join us in our quest to bring their voices to the halls of Congress. Yes, we are going to need money and yes we are going to fundraise, but we are going to make this election about people and not money. Money will not be what determines the outcome of this election, the people of Hawai‘i will be the ones to do that.
Our path to victory is clear. We believe the people in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District share our values and our vision. The core of our support will come from voters who support President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, whether they are defined as progressives, liberals, or simply traditional Democrats, they support the principle of putting the needs of low income and middle class working families first like I do.
We will win this campaign because good people will step up and support doing what is right. We are going to win by talking to one person at a time and walking the district. We are going to meet people where they work and where they play. We are going to share our vision and we are going to reach out to the community and enroll their help and support. We will outwork Congressman Case with the same work-ethic that every day working people put in day after day to make this country run.
We need your help to do this. Please join us in our campaign to represent those voices lacking now in Congress; the voices of working people and everyday families struggling to get by; the voices of our children and the future they have to look forward to. Let’s make sure their voices ring loudly in the halls of Congress for all to hear! That's what I will bring to Congress and with your help we will win, we will make it right!