Drawing inspiration and strength from Grace Lee Boggs, Yuri Kochiyama, Helen Zia and Ai-Jen Poo
Many of us participated in the Women’s March on 21 January with over 3 million people estimated to have attended worldwide. I marched in New York City with an AAPI contingent that was a loosely networked group of Asian American women. In just a few days before the March, I was spurred by two other Asian American women to organize an RSVP list and over 110 Asian American women signed up to march together in New York City. I didn’t get to meet most of these people due to the massive crowds but it was clear to me that there is a need for an organized Asian American Feminist movement.
“To be ‘feminist’ in any authentic sense of the term is to want for all people, female and male, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression” — bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman
An Asian American Feminist movement is the only movement that is able to accurately advocate for and represent the needs of Asian American cis and trans women.
The beauty of the Asian American feminist movement is that we can shape how it looks like. Previously, the radical Asian American feminism movement during the 1980s prioritized and fought for the rights of the marginalized, like low-wage immigrant women workers and the queer community. The Asian American feminism movement took on the issues the mainstream Asian American movement and the larger feminist movement did not address.
I believe our Asian American feminist movement must include queer and trans-Asian Americans. Our Asian American feminist movement must include low-wage workers, particularly low-wage immigrant women workers who work jobs that are invisibilized and not touched by union and labor organizations. Our Asian American feminist movement must include political education. Our Asian American feminist movement must include our own history, focusing on Asian American women who were not included in the history books but worked for change too.
My conversations with my fellow NAPAWF members lead me to believe that we must understand our own history and identify goals to have a strong foundation and base to join hands with other coalitions. AAPIs4black lives and standing in solidarity with our Muslim communities are things we should and are already doing but I’m imagining a mobilization of an Asian American network far more widespread and strong that includes a gender justice, feminist lens.
I am not discounting the work of previous Asian American feminist movements and want to acknowledge previous Asian American feminists and activists that rose out of the Civil Rights Era. Many Asian American feminists today gain strength and inspiration from: Grace Lee Boggs, Yuri Kochiyama, and Helen Zia. Undoubtedly, there are many more but so many of us Asian American Feminists today hold on to these more well-known names for our representation in the larger feminist movement. Even today, there are modern day super hero feminists like Ai-Jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance and Miriam Yeung, Former Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF). But how do we organize cohesively and on a larger scale under the umbrella of feminism?
An example of the importance of the Asian American Feminist movement is seen in history with organizations such as the Asian Immigrant Women Alliance (AIWA). The Asian Immigrant Women Alliance (AIWA), was established in 1983, and successfully advocated for the needs of the Asian immigrant women who were working in Oakland, San Francisco. Erika Lee from her book, “The Making of Asian America”, states that Chinese immigrant women made up 80 percent of the sewing machine operators in San Francisco in the early 1990s. Similarly, in New York City, Chinese immigrant women comprised 85 percent of the garment industry workforce. This fact shows the large numbers of women who were working in a specific industry that were being marginalized because of their lack of English language ability, income, and immigrant status. There were no campaigns from mainstream labor unions, women’s movement or Asian American movement that addressed this group’s needs as the AIWA organization was the first in the area.
To be clear — I am not advocating for an Asian American feminist movement that focuses solely on Asian American women. I am advocating for an Asian American feminist movement that contributes to the larger conversation on feminism happening today because we understand that feminism must be intersectional. But without a visible, cohesive group of Asian American feminists that discuss, identify, understand Asian American issues, how can we contribute effectively, collectively to the overall feminist movement?
With a Trump presidency that is leading an assault on reproductive justice, LGBTQIA equality, and gender equity with eliminations of funding and legal protection, coalition building is crucial. Every day comes a new attack on Muslims, undocumented immigrants, environmentalists, and so forth. There cannot be a divide and conquer- there must be a strong base that is ready to show up, resist, protest where we are needed. And yes, we are needed. I welcome any ally to join the Asian American feminist movement because feminism is as much about learning and undoing the sexist and patriarchic structures that affect both men and women as it is about achieving equal rights and opportunities for women.
It is time to continue the work, my fellow Asian American feminists.
Call to Action:
Join NAPAWF*NYC for a discussion on Asian American Feminism on February 12th, 2017 from 1–3pm at the CUNY Graduate Center.