Silicon Valley mother-daughter duo committed to public service
San Jose Councilmember Rosemary Kamei taking her oath of office on Jan. 10, 2023 standing next to her daughter Ellen, a Mountain View councilmember. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    It started with stuffing campaign envelopes together as a family.

    Decades later, mother Rosemary Kamei and daughter Ellen Kamei are both serving in local government. Rosemary, a likely pick for San Jose vice mayor, won the District 1 seat for City Council last June. District 1 is based in West San Jose and includes the Winchester neighborhoods, Santana Row and the Westgate area. Ellen was reelected to a second term on the Mountain View City Council, after serving as both vice mayor and mayor in her first term.

    Mother and daughter hugged and stood next to each other as Rosemary was sworn in as San Jose councilmember on Jan. 10. Later that night the spotlight turned to Ellen’s swearing-in ceremony, where Rosemary watched as her daughter took the oath holding her 11-month-old son.

    Rosemary said their family story chronicles how public service can be passed down through generations.

    “Public service has always been an important part of our lives,” Rosemary told San José Spotlight. “Both Ellen and her brother grew up being engaged (and) involved in the community… We’re sort of passing it on.”

    Rosemary Kamei hugs her daughter Ellen after taking her oath. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Assemblymember Evan Low said the Kamei family’s victory is a win for Asian American representation in politics. Rosemary is half-Chinese and Puerto Rican, while Ellen is half-Japanese, a quarter Chinese and a quarter Puerto Rican.

    “Rosemary and Ellen are Silicon Valley’s mother and daughter dynamic duo,” Low told San José Spotlight. “They are a political force to be reckoned with… (and) I admire their commitment and family legacy of public service.”

    Community service was a fundamental part of Rosemary’s upbringing, she said. From early childhood she volunteered with her mother in church. The former Valley Water board member and Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee said she wanted to instill that same dedication in her children. She took them to community events and had them help with campaigns.

    “There was a lot of stuffing of envelopes,” Rosemary told San José Spotlight. “That’s something that children can do… fold!”

    Ellen said sharing the same swearing-in date with her mom was an honor. Growing up, she was inspired by numerous women in office, including her mom.

    “Santa Clara County, when I was growing up, was known as the feminist capital of the world,” Ellen told San José Spotlight. “I really had the example of women and women of color leading and being in political office.”

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee said the Kamei family is a role model for women across the region interested in running for office.

    “Rosemary has been a dear friend for over a decade, and she has always been a thoughtful, caring and effective community leader,” Lee told San José Spotlight. “It’s truly special to see Rosemary and Ellen both serving on different city councils and reflects how much Rosemary’s passion for service is shared by Ellen.”

    Rosemary said she and her daughter have grown together as policymakers. They bounce ideas about different issues off each other, and look to each other for inspiration, she said.

    “Once in a while, I would ask her thoughts and she would ask my thoughts,” Rosemary told San José Spotlight. “It’s reciprocal in nature when it comes to trying to solve problems.”

    For Ellen, it goes beyond policymaking. She said she turns to her mother for advice as a working woman in politics. Any politician will agree that politics isn’t possible without the support of loved ones, she added.

    “I feel like my mom and I have this special relationship where I don’t even need to explain to her certain things that have happened because she’s been through it,” she told San José Spotlight.

    The afternoons spent making posters and folding envelopes are part of the family history now, as are their journeys in public service, Ellen said.

    “People don’t know the joy of snail mail,” she said. “Not all mothers and daughters can have this experience: It feels really special and unique.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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