Stephanie Tubbs Jones

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Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the five-term Congresswoman from Cleveland, Ohio, passed away suddenly on August 20. Her legacy was mentioned by several speakers at the Democratic National Convention, including Hillary Clinton, whose cause had been championed by the fiery and well-respected former judge.

While Tubbs Jones broke many barriers as the first African American woman to serve as an Ohio Congresswoman, local judge and local prosecutor, she also was notable helping to foster a climate in a city that has had remarkable levels of achievement by many other people of color.

“She was a trailblazer, had a giant personality that would fill a room and was a great friend of Cleveland’s Asian American community,” said Subodh Chandra, former Law Director (General Counsel) for Cleveland. “She loved our food, our cultures and was supportive of our progress as Americans. For example, she endorsed my primary candidacy for Ohio attorney general and was a close friend of our now-retired Asian American Cuyahoga County coroner, Dr. Elizabeth Balraj. We will miss her warmth, smile and hugs greatly.”

Cleveland is located 60 miles west of Pennsylvania in northeast Ohio. Founded in 1796 at the intersection of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, it became a manufacturing center with numerous railroad and canal lines. Descendants of Hungarians, Italians, African Americans from the South and Jews from Eastern Europe live here, and successive waves of immigrants have left their mark on the city. Unfortunately, the city also has seen the decline of heavy manufacturing and racial tensions that peaked in the 1960s. While pockets of poverty persist, there has been an upsurge in service and financial industries, and a study in The Economist in 2005 found that Cleveland was one of the most livable cities in the United States.

Famous Clevelanders include immigration attorney Margaret Wong; the Japanese and German American model and fashion designer Tina Chow; photographer Masumi Hayashi; playwright Rajiv Joseph; and Harvard physics wunderkind Peter Lu.

Cleveland’s Asiatown neighborhood runs from Payne Avenue to St. Clair Avenue between East 30th and East 40th Streets. Groceries, restaurants and all of the usual shops seen in Chinatowns across America can be found here.

About 1.35 percent of Cleveland’s half a million residents are Asian Pacific American, with 24 different ethnicity and national groups present. Each year, however, they heighten their visibility with a local Dragon Boat Festival.

According to Asia Services in Action (ASIA), a local social services organization, the majority of local Cleveland APAs trace their ancestries to India, western Asia, China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. On average, Asian Pacific Americans are older than the rest of the local population (39 vs. 34 years), the average household is smaller (2.19 vs. 2.36) and the median household income is higher ($53,705 vs. $38,204). On the down side, language barriers remain because 44 percent of households that spoke an Asian or Pacific Islander language were linguistically isolated, and more APAs are transient, as seen in their much higher rate of rentals than other locals (61 versus 38 percent).

May Chen, executive director on leave at ASIA, responded to the passing of Rep. Tubbs Jones by saying, “She came to a community health-related event, and I came away from that brief but meaningful encounter realizing what made her unique and effective. We discussed our personal health issues, the nontraditional way we both choose to address them and our mutual commitment to helping others to understand their bodies and make informed choices.”

I will miss Rep. Tubbs Jones not only for her passionate opposition to Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq and her well-regarded chairing of the House Ethics Committee, but also for a moment on January 6, 2005, when she stood up for principle and opposed the Ohio Electoral College votes being cast for George Bush. She and California Senator Barbara Boxer spoke for many at the time when they said that the widespread problems encountered disproportionately by African American and other Democratic-leaning voters in Ohio required aggressive electoral reforms.

Unfortunately, these problems have not been fixed, and voter intimidation, registration restrictions and non-verifiable machine counts may well carry the day again on November 4. And, this time, we will not have our champion, Rep. Tubbs Jones, there to provide leadership.

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