Congressman Honda: “Sign Up”
By Jonathan Pearson on Tuesday, July 5th, 2011
(At the Smithsonian Folklife Festival) At the close of a 30 minute discussion on the “Peace Porch”, after all the questions from the audience, as the last event of the day gave way to preparations for fireworks to mark 235 years of U.S. independence, Mike Honda – whose life journey has taken him from Japanese internment camps to serving as a volunteer in El Salvador to six-terms in the House of Representatives – closed his Folklife Festival interview with two simple words in regards to the Peace Corps: “Sign up!”
What motivated Honda to sign up and serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer 1965-67? The audience laughed when the Congressman said “a poor GPA in college.” But that was indeed part of his reality. A mix of good and not-so-good grades and delayed graduation led to the point where Honda said he needed a change. “For me, Peace Corps service was a time of growing, of self-discovery. I gained insight into who I was…who I am.”
Peace Corps had a powerful impact on the northern California Congressman. He came back with a second language and knowledge of another culture. “(Peace Corps) opened up things and changed my personality.” Following service, Honda became a teacher and also got involved in a number of social justice causes.
One element of Peace Corps service that Honda emphasized during the discussion was the importance of learning a second language, calling it a “treasure” for volunteers. Honda says it doesn’t matter if you are in Central America, Somalia, Korea or elsewhere around the world. “Language is the very first thing that expresses respect for the people in front of you…We should start moving to push language acquistion in our communities to become more global.” Honda also noted that having a second language has assisted him in politics, as he works to form coalitions with other groups and individuals.
One of the features at the annual Folklife Festival, the Peace Porch conversation with Congressman Honda was an interesting melange of funny recollections (he noted how his family only learned he applied for the Peace Corps when the FBI called concerning his background check), day-to-day living (showering from a water catchment, reading from a Coleman lantern and eating from a propane stove) and current public policy (supporting a pathway to citizenship in the immigration debate, saying it promotes healthier families and healthier relations with other countries).
Peace Corps, says Honda, “enriched my life in so many ways.”
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival resumes on July 7th and runs through July 11th. RPCV Congressman Sam Farr and former RPCV Congressman Chris Shays are scheduled to appear at the Peace Porch in the coming days.