"We want bread and roses too. It's not enough for working people to feed our bodies with bread—we also have to nourish our hearts and spirits with art. America's union movement has a rich culture all its own, telling the story of working families in art, photography, theater, fiction, films and more.” - AFL-CIO website

Sumi Haru walked towards the stage, shoulders held high, wearing high heels with her barely 5-foot frame, as if she owned the world. Her companion’s arm was wrapped around her waist. He was 6'4" at 200 pounds and had on a white polo barong. The two made a striking presence, all dressed in white with their dark brown skin.

That was ten years ago, at the Lotus Festival, held at Echo Park Reservoir, where Los Angeles’ non-profits compete to be the best dragon boat rowing team. A must-see event, it showcased the non-profit community’s teamwork and synchronized rowing skills -- a mandatory combo. Without it, those participating will fail to reach the finish line. The winners proclaimed their positive energies in a tangible way, holding their trophies for a photo-opportunity, and their victory boosted the spirits of the ethnic communities’ in their collective goal of achieving excellence and teamwork.

Sumi Haru is one of the Lotus festival’s co-founders and the current producer of the Mariachi Festival, which has been running for 19 years. The festival is held every November on First St. and Boyle Heights in Los Angeles and draws five master mariachi groups. Sumi Haru is, likewise, the co-founder of top drawing public events: Central Jazz, LA Fiesta Broadway, Bolero and 5 Millenium festivals. The events attract thousands and have graced the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

Fast forward to August 2008. Haru attends the opening reception of the Smithsonian’s Singgalot: 100 years of Filipino American Experience in the United States, at Historic FilipinoTown in Los Angeles. LA is the exhibit's first city host outside of Hawaii.

Empathy and optimism radiate from Haru and she is comfortable enough to switch roles, from that of a leader to a supporter.

When SAG president Barry Gordon ran for Congress in 1995, Sumi took the ropes. She jokingly said “ I get to drive the vehicle, instead of being the squeaky wheel. “ For her 38 years of service to a union of 120,000 television and motion picture performers, she received the highly-coveted Ralph Morgan Award in June 2009.

More for others

She leverages her service, not for personal gain but to open doors of opportunities for her fellow artists. As the chair of Ethnic Equal Opportunities Committee, she negotiated and drafted diversity clauses for producers’ contracts. Her efforts enabled folks of color to participate in auditions and to be considered for mainstream roles.

Her actions paved the way for the mainstream careers of Denise Dador, Cheryl Burke, Elita Loresca, Maria Quiban and Jannelle So of Kababayan LA .

Two decades ago, a show like Kababayan LA was unthinkable. Sumi Haru was our only representation. She anchored KPFK’s Pacifica Radio “ Up for Air “, KTLA’s Weekend Gallery, 70’s woman, 80’s Woman, and several public affairs’ issues: the Rising Sun controversy, the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings, anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s bombings, including specials on the Philippines, Taiwan, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), the USSR and Nicaragua.

Her election for several terms at the national executive board of the American Federation of Television and Recording Artists gained a lot for others. Sumi’s work in SAG and AFTRA led to Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and AFL-CIO’s 52 member National Executive Board, with 13,000,000 members, as its only Asian leader.

Asked by a Variety reporter if SAG’s Ethnic Equal Employment Opportunity committee’s relevance would diminish in the future, Sumi said no.

As visible and creative as their union work has been, with so many fronts covered since 1971, the entertainment industry’s key decision makers have moved with glacial pace in integrating folks of color more fully.

Nevertheless, Sumi Haru cannot wait for their slow pace. Genius in Motion reported that “ Sumi as one of the founding members of the Cultural Environment Movement, spearheaded by Dr. George Gerbner, and the co-president of the County of Los Angeles’ Media Image Coalition that seeks balanced media images for under-represented groups in the television and film industry. The county board of supervisors authorized this coalition to convene an unprecedented forum with television news media executives and law enforcement and emergency agencies to assess their news coverages during the 1992 civil unrest.” The University of Vermont’s Women’s Studies’ has selected Sumi Haru as a role model because of her impactful work on diversity.

However, even after four decades of active leadership and championing inclusion and diversity in hiring, Sumi believes only .001 of 1% of the entertainment industry have been moved by her efforts.

Sumi’s assessment of Hollywood's practice, with regards to its contribution to the civic life of Los Angeles, aligns with that of the New York Times'. Michael Cieply and Jennifer Steinhauer reported on Sept. 5, 2009 that of the top 20 philanthropic givers, top-billed by Kaiser Permanente and Wells Fargo, not a single entertainment company was found.

LA City Council President Eric Garcetti said “You do have people who get very engaged in hospitals and universities, but people forget that building a great city takes the building of great infrastructures. Building a civic culture is less than engaging to Hollywood.“ The same news article reported that money from the entertainment industry represented about .0075 of 1% of the $3.4 million raised by Para Los Ninos, a non-profit group helping impoverished children in downtown Los Angeles.

Could it be that the entertainment industry that draws the talent that we support might, in reality, be lacking in empathy? Could it be that they do not recognize the needs of others and that they, as part of Los Angeles’ civic community, have a responsibility to the community?

"Applause for my performances (as a writer, poet, producer, director, administrator ) is welcome, but my life will be measured by what I did to enhance the quality of life for people in my community." This has been Sumi Haru’s self-imposed ethic for decades. Just like Senator Ted Kennedy who used his life of privilege for the welfare of others. Here's to Sumi Haru, whose original name is Mildred Sevilla and was born to parents of Ilocano descent! May hers and the senator’s tribes increase!


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