Building bridges from Longford to Santa Clara, California

Kathleen (Carolan) Watanab

Kathleen (Carolan) Watanab was presented with a piece of Bog Oak during her visit to Aras an Chontae last week

City Council Member in Santa Clara, California, Kathleen (Carolan) Watanab visited Longford last week where she met with local area representatives and council executives.

Ms Watanab’s parents who hail from Drumlish and Corlea, has visited the county on a number of occasions, but this is the first in her newly elected local government role.
She was elected to Santa Clara City Council in 2016 and has since been appointed to a number of committees there.
Regeneration, social integration and community development are her key areas of interest, factors that it seems are as equally important in County Longford as they are in her native Santa Clara.
Ms Watanab’s father Kevin was born and reared in Ohill, Drumlish and her mother was a native of Corlea in Kenagh.
Her maternal grandfather, John Francis Reynolds was a member of the North Longford Flying Column and this signifies an important connection between her family and General Séan McEoin, Thomas Ashe, Michael Collins and the other revolutionaries of the time.
Her great uncle was Jim Sheerin.
“I am delighted to be here in Longford,” Kathleen said in conversation with the Leader, before pointing out that her father back in the States was looking forward to hearing all about her trip to Co Longford.
“My parents actually arrived in the States separately even though they were both from Co Longford; the families knew each other, but mum and dad actually met at an Irish dance in the Bronx.”
The couple later married and had three children, Kathleen being the eldest.
After a few years in America, the Carolans decided to bring their children back to Ireland and Kathleen subsequently began her national school education in Ballinalee.
That was 1965.
“Myself and my sister attended school in Ballinalee for about three years,” she said, recalling some very fond memories.
“Gaelic was part of the curriculum at the time and I really appreciated that; there are some things that have stuck with me as a result and that is one of them - I can still count to ten in Irish!
“I remember that when you would come back into the school after being outside you would have to wipe your feet on about 10 different mats to ensure that the dirt wasn't brought inside.”
The years rolled by, and it was soon 1968 and that year the family returned to the United States where Kathleen continued with her education and later entered the legal profession.
She married Karl and the couple have one daughter, Keleigh.
Kathleen always had an interest in politics and was acutely aware of social systems in her home town.
From an early age she advocated and supported democracy.
So, needless to say, she, like many other Americans, looked on in utter shock and disbelief as the election of Donald Trump to the presidential seat in the States took place late last year.
“We really believed, all along that Hillary Clinton would become president,” she lamented, before pointing out that, while she was a Democrat, the Council she represented was non partisan.
“The feeling throughout the campaign was that Hillary would win; because many people felt this strong assurance that she would win, they didn’t become as involved in the campaign then.”
And the controversies surrounding Trump went on and on with many left reeling from his behaviour during his first 100 days office.
While there have been many controversies then and since, there are a number of questionable matters that really stand out for the American people including his attack on China, labeling it a currency manipulator, which has undoubtedly gone down in history.
The travel ban on Muslims entering the US saw a huge backlash with millions of Americans taking to the streets and airports in protest.
He has also signed two executive orders banning immigration from multiple Muslim majority countries, but on both occasions the courts have halted the orders. He has also promised to fund a wall along the American border with Mexico!
Just last week he sparked what many people believe will result in a nuclear war with South Korea.
“When you heard the continued rhetoric that came from Trump during the campaign, you just felt that there was no way he was going to become president,” said Kathleen.
“Then on election night when we saw all those red States lighting up on the board, there was a lot of concern.
“During his campaign, Trump talked about immigration and about building a wall and I had very strong concerns, I have to tell you; especially when you consider all the people who came to the United States from all over the world and built the country up to what it is today.
“I know what my father contributed to my country; I know what my relatives contributed too and I know what all the other immigrants contributed as well.”
She said that she, along with many others, felt that Trump’s wish to deport people was terribly wrong and as a direct result of the President’s move, the county of Santa Clara took a position of solidarity and the local council issued a statement saying that anyone who came to Santa Clara was welcome.
“Nobody was going to be discriminated against; we are not a city that looks upon people differently, everyone is welcome,” Kathleen continued, before pointing to the importance, at that stage, to get that statement into the public domain.
“It's because it is necessary to protect those that would be immediately affected by Trump’s policy.”
As we now know there are millions of people in the US living in fear of President Trump's deportation drive, and Kathleen says she knows families in her county that immediately went into hiding too.
“Those people were initially getting assistance from doctors and welfare, but once that deportation drive began, they stopped accessing the services and hid.
“They were afraid of being deported.
“The whole situation created a real sense of concern and fear for all of us.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has said that his “fire and fury” threats against North Korea have not been tough enough and warned Pyongyang that he risks being “in trouble like few nations have ever been”.
And as the escalating rhetoric between the Trump administration and North Korea over the threat posed by Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes continues, American people are now bracing themselves for all out war.“We are genuinely afraid that this will escalate,” added Kathleen.
“The interaction that is going on between our President and North Korea is very much at the forefront of people’s minds now.
“I think the United States is under threat from North Korea.”
Back here in Longford, the Californian politician wants to build bridges and create friendships between Longford and Santa Clara.
“Just watching Longford’s resurrection after the recession I realise that a lot of the issues here that are very similar to those in California,” she smiled.
“As the world becomes smaller we are being provided with a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other and to get through these hard times together.
“Going forward, and as the world changes, we have to constantly reinvent ourselves and become more and more sustainable.
“People want to come to bigger cities where they can get good jobs and, in order to provide that, the core services must be in place.
“That means revenue is needed, so we are all faced with coming up with new ways to generate that revenue too.
“It is through working together that we can achieve so much.”

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