stereotypes of Asian American women (Femi Oke/Twitter)
The activism of AAPI women is built on the shoulders of many women's voices—some from the beginning of the AAPI presence in the U.S.—others are women who are now elder voices and still going strong after decades of struggle.
It is impossible to cover the breadth of the AAPI female historical and current-day experience at one sitting. I began this discussion in Women of color in women's history: Part four—Asian and Asian Pacific Americans and will continue to build on what was presented there.
Those elder shoulders span those of Japanese-American Yuri Kochiyama, covered in the previous piece—born in 1921, interned in a camp under the racist law enacted by FDR, who went on to follow Malcolm X (who died in her arms), and to organize in multiple communities on diverse progressive issues—to the wisdom and perseverance of Chinese-American Grace Lee Boggs, born in 1915, who will be 99 this June.
Boggs is the subject of the award-winning documentary American Revolutionary: the Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs:
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Grace Lee Boggs, (91 years young) brings a message of hope during troubling times with a new paradigm of leadership and activism.
Her autobiography, LIVING FOR CHANGE, published by the University of Minnesota Press in March l998, is widely used in university classes on social movements. In 2004, she helped organize the Beloved Communities Project, "an initiative begun to identify, explore and form a network of communities committed to and practicing the profound pursuit of justice, radical inclusivity, democratic governance, health and wholeness, and social / individual transformation."For more on Boggs, her ideas and ideology, I suggest reading her book written with Scott Kurashige, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, and visiting the Boggs Center.
"I think we're not looking sufficiently at what is happening at the grassroots in the country. We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently. Things do not start with governments."
It is a challenge attempting to cover the herstories, contributions and current activism of AAPI women given the fact that artificially created demographic categories include amazing diversity and difference. The census category on Asian Americans is wide-ranging, spanning "people having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent." A Pew study of census data looks at Asian Americans and reports this on gender:
The Asian-American native-born adult population is evenly split between males and females, but the foreign-born Asian population has more females than males—54% of women versus 46% of menNative Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are compiled in other data sets. Contemporary activism encompasses both. Thus we arrive at "AAPI."
Key in the movements to unite and make connections between and among these communities is 18 Million Rising.
There are approximately 18 million Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, representing nearly six percent of the total population and growing faster than any other racial group (!) Despite that, Asian Americans remain one of the most politically under–organized, under–engaged, and under–represented constituencies: only 55% of Asian American citizens of voting age are registered to vote -- the lowest rate of all races.
18MillionRising.org was founded to promote AAPI civic engagement, influence and movement by leveraging the power of technology and social media. 18MillionRising.org (18MR) is comprised of a network of a AAPI activists, artists, organizations, and digital media influencers, ranging from community based organizations and print magazines to Asian American blogs and YouTube channels. During the 2012 election cycle, 18MR built and distributed online voter registration tools, ran social media-fueled civic engagement campaigns, and provided up–to–date information and analysis on all things political that Asian (and all!) Americans should know about. Since election season, we've stood up for the voices and struggles of AAPIs. We even took on Google. And WON.
Other organizations focus on specific groups of AAPI women as well as being connected to broader movements and coalitions—groups like Manavi, founded by "a group of six South Asian women: Kavery Dutta, Radha Sharma Hegde, Rashmi Jaipal, Shamita Das Dasgupta, Shashi Jain, and Vibha Jha."
Founded in 1985, Manavi was the first organization in the U.S to specifically address the unmet needs of South Asian women victims of violence. Initially conceptualized as a consciousness-raising group, Manavi’s founders soon realized that South Asian women facing abuse were unable to access critical services from mainstream domestic violence organizations in the U.S owing to cultural, linguistic and immigration related barriers, among many others.It is important to understand the history of the different waves of migration here to the U.S. by AAPI women, both through their stories and experiences and the obstacles they have faced. One of the women documenting that history is Dr. Huping Ling:
Since its inception several other South Asian organizations have been formed in the U.S. along similar lines. Today, Manavi continues to be a pioneer in advancing the South Asian women’s movement in the U.S by championing new strategies and constantly adapting the advocacy strategies and service provision to the changing needs of South Asian women living in the U.S.
As a direct service provider, a social change agent within the South Asian community, and a diversity trainer in the mainstream movement to end violence against women in the U.S., Manavi simultaneously addresses both the immediate needs of women facing abuse and the long-term vision of establishing peaceful communities free from gender-based violence.
A Ford Foundation Prize-winning author, she has published eleven books and over hundred articles on Asian American studies, including immigration and ethnicity, assimilation and adaptation, transnationalism, family and marriage, employment patterns, and community structures.
A firsthand look at Asian women of the Midwest, Voices of the Heart is a comprehensive and comparative oral history that includes Chinese, Japanese, Filipina, Korean, and Asian Indian women as well as the newer Asian groups of Vietnamese, Laotians, Hmong, Thais, and Pakistanis. Huping Ling gathers these women's heartfelt stories about their journeys to America, their aspirations, their strides in education and employment, their cultural heritage, and their family dynamics. The women featured tell how their experiences align with their expectations of life in America, and the challenges of adjusting to a new culture while preserving their own.Also by Huping Ling, I suggest Surviving on the Gold Mountain: A History of Chinese American Women and Their Lives, from SUNY Press.
Surviving on the Gold Mountain is the first comprehensive work on Chinese American women's history covering the past 150 years. Relying on archival documents (many of which have never been used), oral history interviews, census data, contemporary newspapers in English and Chinese, and secondary literature, it unearths an unknown page of Chinese American history--the lives of Chinese immigrant women as wives of merchants, farmers, and laborers, as prostitutes, and as students and professionals in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America.I'd like to thank our AAPI foremothers and sisters for the role they have played in building this nation and moving us forward.