If elected, Josina Morita would become the first Asian American woman to serve on the Cook County Board. That might be a headline as she launches her 2022 campaign for the county’s 13th District seat, replacing retiring Commissioner Larry Suffredin.
Yet it’s the unique combo of the professional and personal that makes her a formidable politician for these times.
In 2016, Morita was elected to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the first Asian American elected to a countywide board in Cook County. The progressive activist calls herself an “organizer of electeds” on the board. She is known for coalition-building and lobbying her colleagues on an array of policies.
Morita, 41, is an urban planner, community organizer, outspoken advocate for racial justice, and — what may trump all — a working mother. She serves as founding chair of the state’s Asian American Caucus and the new “Mama’s Caucus.”
Morita had two babies while serving on the MWRD board. Her youngest was born as the COVID-19 pandemic descended.
“I didn’t realize when I had my first kid that I was the first commissioner, ever, in 130 years, to have a baby in office,” she recalled last week when we met for coffee. “So there just were things that were not in place, like maternity leave,” or other accommodations for new mothers.
She pushed to pass state legislation to change that, but it was deferred. It eventually was approved, but “then, I had my second baby the day we went to shelter in place.”
Kai is turning 3, Meiko, 18 months. The pandemic continues, she says, and “I had two kids under three, 24/7.”
That makes her exquisitely qualified for the Mama’s Caucus. The multiracial, bi-partisan alliance of mothers who represent elected bodies at all levels across Illinois was launched in June to push for “mama friendly” state and local legislation and policies, such as remote working maternity leave, parental leave and paid sick leave.
It’s about “restructuring work,” Morita notes, providing spaces for “lactation rooms, changing stations, simple things like that.”
During the pandemic, “you saw two million women leave the workforce, a huge portion of them moms, you know, and we were remote working while our kids are e-learning, trying to keep our kids alive.”
Morita, who is of Chinese and Japanese descent, is a multi-racial coalition-builder fighting for equity and access. “I’ve worked in communities that a lot of people, you know, haven’t been on the ground in, Black — Latino, Asian, Arab communities.”
In 2016, in the election in which Morita becamethe first Asian-American elected to a countywide seat, she saw a surge in Asian American political power. And now today, she says, “we’ve got over 100 elected Asians in local offices across the state.”
Asians Americans are the fastest growing racial group in Illinois, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
Politics are personal. Morita lives in Skokie and is married to Cornell Collins, an African American. The other day as she was making a doctor’s appointment, she was asked for her child’s race.
“My kids are Black,” she replied.
“A lot of the racial health disparities … are much more severe on the African-American side,” she told me, “so I want them to make sure that that data is being tracked and that we’re paying attention to some of the health disparities and health issues that they may inherit.”
And “when a police officer pulls them over, when they’re out in the world, they’re going to be seen as Black,” she said. “And they need to know what that means.”
Send letters to email@example.com.