Distinguished leader in the State Assembly spearheading legislation for civil rights protection and improvements for vulnerable populations
Mariko Yamada was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1950 after her family’s release from the Manzanar War Relocation Center, one of ten such Japanese American internment camps established during World War II. She witnessed the effects on her family of the incarceration and the struggles to reestablish a life after release from the camp. She attended inner city public schools in the “Five Points” neighborhood, and remembers standing up for underrepresented students who would get picked on at her elementary school.
Hoping to address her concerns about Asian-American mental health issues, she earned a degree in psychology from University of Colorado, Boulder in June 1972, the first in her family to graduate from college. She soon realized that she could help families and individuals on a case-by-case basis, but grew frustrated that she could not help more. As a result, she came to Los Angeles, and in June 1974, earned her Masters in Social Work from the University of Southern California, specializing in community organizing, planning and administration. Of her career choices, she was once quoted as saying jokingly, “I studied psychology to save my family but realized that it would not work, so I pursued social work to try to save the world instead.”
She began her career in social work in 1974 with Special Service for Groups, Inc., a Los Angeles based United Way Agency and then joined the first-term staff of Los Angeles County Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman, her first job in politics. Her professional career spans more than 39 years in public service where she has served as Chair, California Democratic Party 8th Assembly District Committee; Chair, Yolo County Democratic Central Committee; Yolo County Supervisor; EEO/AA Officer, San Diego County Department of Social Services; Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Commerce; and, United States Census Bureau, 1980 Census National Minority Statistics Program.
Assemblymember Yamada currently represents the 4th District in the California Assembly, an area spanning six counties northwest of Sacramento, including 13 cities and 39 communities. Yamada chairs the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care, a position that reflects her professional background as a social worker and her long time work advocating for seniors and persons with disabilities. Additionally, she is a member of the Assembly Committees on Agriculture; Veterans Affairs; and Water, Parks and Wildlife. She also chairs the Assembly Select Committees on State Hospital and Developmental Center Safety and Sustainable and Organic Agriculture, and is a member of the Assembly Select Committee on Homelessness and the Select Committee on Wine.
Assemblymember Yamada has been the recipient of numerous awards for her work in the area of civil rights, environmental issues and the protection of children. She received the Malcolm X Tenet Award from the Davis Action Coalition and the Civil Rights/Social Justice Leader Award by the Organization of Chinese Americans, Sacramento Chapter. Clean Water Action named her a “Clean Water Champion” for her leadership on water and environmental issues.
Yamada continues to utilize her social work skills to support her work protecting vulnerable populations, the environment, and to maintain her commitment to social reform and social justice.