Rachel Hidaka, long time advocate for the refugee and immigrant population, friend, mentor, and “mother” to all who had the opportunity to work with her, passed away peacefully with her children by her side on June 28, 2016 at the age of 85.
Rachel was born on August 27, 1930 in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, and is survived by her children Anne Hidaka and Mark Hidaka and his wife Nicole, her grandchildren Brandon and Allison Turner, Kai and Lea Hidaka, her sister Anna and husband Thomas Toyama and her sister Ruby Fujimoto, as well as many other cousins, nieces and nephews.
For more than 20 years, Rachel headed the ESL program, rising to the Associate Dean of Basic Studies. In her tenure, Rachel’s deep sense of mission, nurturing spirit and fierce resolve, grew the program to become the largest of its kind in the state and one of the top programs in the country.
Duang Tengtrirat, who worked for Rachel for over 10 years said: “Rachel was the epitome of social justice and equality and went to utmost extent to bring it to her community. She dedicated her working life to serving those who were disadvantaged. At that time, the population most in need were the SE Asian refugees. She fought for their rights, for their share of social service, for governments to give them what they deserved and for her staff to treat them with respect and integrity.
“She was selfless in her work and her outlook. Whatever and wherever refugees could be best served, she made sure that they got to that place. She touched them at every level from intake to the classrooms to government offices. When they cried, she comforted them. When the end of term came, she cooked, ate, and laughed with them. When their children graduated she attended the ceremonies. Nothing stopped her from being with her refugee students.”
Another instructor, Nancy Strom, from Seattle Central Community College said of Rachel’s retirement: “I remember the many tears and shock in the Basic Studies when she told us she was retiring. We were shaken and did not know how we could go on without her, but Rachel did such a wonderful job setting up our programs, that we found our way to move forward.
Luanda Chan, Rachel’s long time friend and dedicated secretary, said she remembers how even after Rachel retired, she would call Luanda at work after the normal day had ended, to remind her to go home.
In 1996, Rachel was recognized by the International Examiner with a Community Voice Award for her ongoing contributions to the community. Seattle Mayor Norm Rice proclaimed May 22, 1996 day as “Rachel Hidaka Day” in her honor.
“It was nice to see all of her efforts being applauded. She dedicated her life to education and to her family. She was a very bright, accomplished, Asian woman who was ahead of her time as a leader and at the forefront of ESL studies,” said Rachel’s nephew, David Fujimoto.
At Rachel’s celebration of life, long time colleague Judy de Barros recounted, “When I hear the phrase, ‘we stand on the shoulders of those who go before us,’ I think first of Rachel.
“She was a great friend, mentor, and supporter to everyone who worked with her. She taught us, not through lessons, but by walking along side us, listening to us, supporting our work and ideas.”
Rachel touched so many lives. We will all miss her.