By Peter Salas
May is Asian-American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to recognize the contributions of Asian-Americans not only in the U.S and Colorado but in Boulder County as well. It’s only appropriate that we recognize a local Asian-American whose story has largely gone unnoticed and forgotten: Linda Naomi Miyamoto-Salas.
A Japanese-American, Linda grew up in Cheyenne Wyoming. Her father was an optometrist and businessman, known affectionately as “Doc Miyamoto.” Her mother was a dedicated healthcare professional in the local county public health office.
As a child, Linda’s mother was interred in a U.S. Concentration Camp, an event that continually influenced Linda’s view of the world and the racism it embodied. Linda’s father’s family lived in Denver during the war. Because of Governor Ralph Carr’s refusal to imprison Japanese-Americans, Linda’s father and his family were spared the indignities suffered by many of their other family members.
The shadows of WWII and Pearl Harbor still played a role in Linda’s school life. Linda often spoke of the dread of going to school on December 7 due to the harassment and shaming by white students because of the war and her Japanese heritage.
Linda began her professional career with the phone company, Mountain Bell, later known as U.S. West where despite the challenges, she managed to work her way up the corporate ladder. After a 20-year career with the phone company Linda retired as the Denver District Administrative Services Division Manager. After leaving U.S. West, Linda worked in the city clerks offices in Boulder and Louisville, finally serving as the Town Clerk for the Town of Erie.
Linda’s career was not unlike many of her generation with respect to the trials and tribulations faced by women of color. Linda was continually reminded of the AA stereotype of “model minority” and the expectations therein.
Linda once shared that, while in Cheyenne, her white female manager told her that the reason she was hired was because she was Oriental, and she knew that Orientals worked harder than anyone else. After she began working in Denver, Linda overheard her white male supervisor tell another manager that he was going to hold on to her because she was too good to let go of, and she made him look good.
Like many women of color, Linda had to work twice as hard as her male counterparts for less pay and recognition. Linda suffered the additional indignities of being continually passed over in favor of employees she had trained. Through it all, Linda persevered.
When Boulder County Clerk Charlotte Houston retired in 2002 and after consulting with family and friends, Linda decided to run for the office. Linda’s extensive management experience in public and private workplaces made her a seemingly obvious choice, but one that wasn’t shared by the local Democratic establishment.
Most of the local party establishment favored a long-time Democrat leader with extensive legislative experience, including serving as a Boulder County Commissioner. Linda’s opposition had termed out as commissioner and, as often happens in political circles, decided to use her political capital to seek another elected office.
In my opinion, many in Democratic party leadership circles were not happy about Linda entering the race and thought that she should instead drop out and support the party favorite. I was personally told to tell Linda to get out of the race because she didn’t have a chance and that her opponent didn’t want to go through the time and expense of a primary race which Linda could not win.
In a surprise to many and despite the odds against her, Linda secured a place on the primary ballot. With the help of a cadre of grassroots volunteers and a lot of hard work, Linda shocked the establishment and won the Democratic primary.
Linda’s 2002 general election opponent was no match: Linda was elected, becoming, to my knowledge, the first person of color ever elected to a county-wide office in Boulder County.
This story didn’t end with Linda’s 2002 victory. Some of you will recall that due to the “hanging chad” incident, voting systems across the nation were overhauled and electronic voting machines were put into service. The implementation of the new tech centric voting machines was not without complications. The problems associated with the new election technology caused the 2004 election results to be delayed by three days.
Linda was chastised and blamed for the technical problems by county Democratic party leadership who were, in my opinion, still not over the 2002 election. In an unprecedented move, they recruited the county party chair, a capable but much-less qualified person, to run against her. The party machine and distortion of Linda’s record proved too much, and she lost her re-election bid.
Linda handled the loss with dignity and expressed gratitude for having had the opportunity to serve.
Under Linda’s successor, the 2008 vote count took three days to complete. The silence among the party elite spoke volumes: No uproar, no cries of incompetency, no cries to have the county clerk removed. It is my belief that Linda’s ouster was due to her rejection of the in-crowd mentality, but also fueled by racism.
Linda passed away in November 2020 after a lengthy illness. She will be remembered by her co-workers and friends as a consummate public servant who demonstrated the highest level of competence in service to her community.
It is my hope that Boulder County will find a way to recognize and honor Linda in a manner befitting of her work accomplishments and historic Boulder County first as an Asian-American and woman of color.
Peter Salas was married to Linda Miyamoto-Salas; they remained good friends after separating. Now retired, Salas was an employee in the Boulder County Commissioners’ Office for 25 years and formerly served as vice-chair for the Boulder County Democrats.
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