Fil-Am actress, labor rights activist Sumi Sevilla Haru dies
The pioneer Filipino American actress and labor rights advocate famously refused to play a maid or a dragon lady or any role that stereotypes Asian American and other women of color. She picketed and blasted productions starring European performers as Asians where roles were unavailable to Asian Americans.
Haru died October 16 in a Los Angeles hospital reportedly after battling emphysema. She was 75.
Haru registered with the Screen Actors Guild in 1968, joined its board in the 1970s and in 1995 became its interim president – the first woman of color to head the organization. She was later elected first vice president.
She starred in movies and television shows such as Krakatoa East of Java, Hillstreet Blues, MASH and The Beverly Hillbillies.
Born Mildred Sevilla August 25, 1939, in Orange, New Jersey, to parents who immigrated from the Philippines, Ms Haru adopted her professional name to highlight the lack of Asians and other actors of color in the entertainment industry.
Her family moved to Arvada, Colorado, where she was educated. While on a vacation in California, she met a film cast and crew and was drawn to their work.
While she did not quite reach stardom as a performer, Ms Haru attained distinction as an advocate for labor rights and race equality.
She later produced and hosted shows for KTLA-TV Channel 5 and collaborated with the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs to mount events honoring the area's minority populations, according to the Los Angeles Times.
She co-founded SAG’s Ethnic Employment Opportunities Committee in 1971 and contributed to including affirmative action clauses into contracts.
Looking back at her advocacy in the 1990s, Haru said progress had been made although the struggle continues.
She is survived by two daughters and a sister.
Filipino American Democratic Caucus of the California Democratic Party chair Melissa Ramoso and California Democratic Party Asian Pacific Islander Caucus State chair Clark Lee led party leaders in honoring the late labor leader and Hollywood pioneer.
"The Asian Pacific Islander American and the Filipino American community will sorely miss Sumi Haru, a trailblazer in the Democratic Party and the Labor Movement who had always been a fierce fighter for equal opportunity, civil rights, and diversity in entertainment. She was a role model who actively encouraged and inspired many young people to become politically engaged.
Sumi's work extends several decades in the entertainment industry, labor advocacy, and Democratic activism. As a labor leader, she was a longtime SAG-AFTRA leader who served as SAG's Interim president and became the first woman of color to hold the position. She was the first Asian American to serve on the AFL-CIO's national executive council as AFL-CIO National Vice President. In the Democratic Party, she was Southern Chair of the California Democratic Party Asian Pacific Islander Caucus and the chair of the California Democratic Party Filipino American Caucus.
"We will remember Sumi's energy and smile that have touched the entertainment industry, the labor community, and the Democratic Party family alike. On behalf of the California Democratic Party Asian Pacific Islander Caucus and the California Democratic Party Filipino American Democratic Caucus, we extend our utmost sympathy to the Haru family and friends." – Rappler.com
This story was republished with permission from Philippine News.