Mazie Hirono is one of the most fiercely outspoken Democrats in Congress, but her journey to the U.S. Senate was far from likely. Raised on a rice farm in rural Japan, she was seven years old when her mother, Laura, left her abusive husband and sailed with her two elder children to Hawaii, crossing the Pacific in steerage in search of a better life. Though the girl then known as “Keiko” did not speak or read English when she entered first grade, she would go on to serve as a state representative and as Hawaii’s lieutenant governor before winning election to Congress in 2006.
In this deeply personal memoir, Hirono traces her remarkable life from her earliest days in Hawaii, when the family lived in a single room in a Honolulu boarding house while her mother worked two jobs to keep them afloat, to her emergence as a highly effective legislator whose determination to help the most vulnerable was grounded in her own experiences of economic insecurity, lack of healthcare access, and family separation. Finally, it chronicles Hirono’s recent transformation from dogged yet soft-spoken public servant into the frank and fiery advocate we know her as today.
For the vast majority of Mazie Hirono’s five decades in public service, even as she fought for the causes she believed in, she strove to remain polite and reserved. Steeped in the nonconfrontational cultures of Japan and Hawaii, and aware of the expectations of women in politics–chiefly, that they should never show an excess of emotion–she had schooled herself to bite her tongue, even as her male colleagues continually underestimated her. After the 2016 election, however, she could moderate herself no longer. In the face of a dangerous administration–and amid crucial battles with lasting implications for our democracy, from the Kavanaugh hearings to the impeachment trial–Senator Hirono was called to give voice to the fire that had always been inside her.
The compelling and moving account of a woman coming into her own power over the course of a lifetime in public service, and of the mother whose courageous choices made her life possible, Heart of Fire is the story of a uniquely American journey, told by one of those fighting hardest to ensure that a story like hers is still possible in this country.