Growing up, my mother and grandmother were the greatest sources of courage I could imagine. My mother moved to the U.S. from Taiwan to continue her education and become a doctor, and she seemed capable of anything. My grandmother helped raise me and was a pillar of her community, while caring for our family and working as a nurse. As a young girl, these women were unstoppable creators of change in our family and in their communities. As young girls, my sister and I looked to them for guidance, strength, and comfort.
Asian American and Pacific Islander women have always carried our families and communities forward and shaped this nation, with their work, their contributions and their courage. Today, we have AAPI women leaders whose visibility in their positions are transforming what AAPI girls across the nation understand as their future.
This is the first AAPI Heritage Month we are celebrating Kamala Harris, a Black and AAPI woman, serving as the Vice President of the United States. In Congress, Representatives like Pramila Jayapal and Grace Meng are working to address some of the biggest challenges of our time—from health care to child care—through their political and policy leadership.
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This year I watched the Academy Awards with pride as Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color to receive an Oscar for Best Director, and Youn Yuh-jung became the second AAPI woman to receive an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Their talent and artistry are changing both the story of who we are as a nation and who can tell our stories, helping us see one another anew.
But as an organizer, it’s often the less-known leaders who end up inspiring me the most. My work with caregivers and domestic workers has given me the opportunity to learn from brilliant AAPI women leaders working in our local communities around the country. Leaders like Aquilina Soriano, director of the Pilipino Workers Center in Los Angeles, who created a community and a home for Filipina domestic workers and caregivers to break out of the isolation of care work, find connection and make change together. The fact that we are finally, as a nation, beginning to recognize how essential our care infrastructure is and the value of care work, is the result of the work of leaders like Aquilina and the caregivers in her organization.
Much has been written this past year about the devastation AAPI communities, particularly women, have endured. From rising anti-Asian violence and attacks to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on AAPI women who are concentrated in essential professions. Less reported are the powerful ways AAPI women have risen, responded and helped us come together.
Following the shooting in Atlanta, AAPI women activists, like Sung Yeon Choimorrow at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum who created safe spaces for AAPI women to gather and grieve, organized to support the families of the victims, to help the nation understand the specific ways that AAPI women experience racism, and call for an end to the violence. When the shooting in Indianapolis took lives in the Sikh community, Valarie Kaur brought us together, to hold vigil and remind the community that they are not alone, and we will not forget.
In philanthropy, AAPI women, like Sarita Gupta at the Ford Foundation, have called donors to action, to invest in addressing the root causes of racial injustice in our economy by addressing the epidemic of poverty-wage work which has plagued the community for far too long. Taryn Higashi of Unbound Philanthropy is leading efforts to achieve immigrant rights and inclusion, supporting organizing led by women of color to change our policy and culture to embrace immigrants, and Sonal Shah, is heading up the newly launched Asian American Foundation to galvanize donors to support advocacy on behalf of the AAPI community.
Throughout the course of our history, AAPI women have powered change for AAPI communities and beyond. And today we see them leading everywhere, galvanizing our communities and the nation, to address the inequities that created our vulnerability—the hierarchies of power that have kept us concentrated in positions of invisibility and abuse. They are finding new solutions, building alliances, moving legislation, and taking care of business in the White House. Their work—our work—is more important than ever as we imagine a more equitable, safe and healthy life after the pandemic, chart a path toward a multi-racial democracy with a place of honor and belonging for all of us, and continue expanding what’s possible for our young AAPI girls.
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