Asian Pacific American Girls and Women Speak Out!
by Jackie Bong-Wright
The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum of DC on April 21 sponsored book presentations and signings by two dynamic activists, Vickie Nam, editor of Yell-Oh Girls, and Miriam Ching Louie, author of Sweatshop Warriors, at the Martin Luther King Public library. The first author created an anthology of written works by young female writers and the second addressed the anti-sweatshop movement.
Vickie Nam, producer of VOXXY, a Los Angeles-based network for girls, was a former managing producer at AsianAvenue.com, news teen coordinator at Teen People, and editor-in-chief of Blue Jean Magazine. Her work has appeared in Seventeen, Jump, and KoreAm Journal.
She mentioned in her presentation that, through her writing, she found contradictions in her identities as “Asian, American, and a girl.” She went on to explain the process she used to collect and edit innumerable contributions from young writers. From 15 to 22 year-old writers from all over the country, she compiled 80 essays, poems, letters, and stories from young people whose voices need to be heard.
The editor then read works from Jennifer Sa-rlang Kim’s Where Are You From? China Doll by Elaine Wong, Maybelline on Maple Street by Alison Park, Anorexic by Alice Chung, The Barbarian by Millie, an unknown teenager, Chinglish by Caroline Fan, and, last but not least, Ginseng from Starbucks by Mai-Linh Hong.
They all have a common link with the author in trying to find their identities and expressing challenges they face in their lives. Furthermore, they tackle such complex issues as dual identities, body image, internal rage, family tensions, inter-racial dating, cultural clashes, and emerging voices for change.
With a foreword by well-known writer Phoebe Eng and a poetic salute by Janice Mirikitani, Nam classifies the works according to themes and ends each of the five sections with a “Mentor Piece” by Helen Zia, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Elaine Kim, Patsy Mink and Wendy Mink.
A reader wrote of the book, “Some stories are sad and thought-provoking, while others will have you giggling on the floor.” Another reader said, “The golden thread in the anthology weaves over racial, gender boundaries and outlines the yearning to find one’s individuality and to feel comfortable in one’s own skin.” Another thought, “This book struck many chords with me with respect to my self-image and my feelings toward my family. I am half Korean and half Jewish and have never felt like I “fit in.” Yell-Oh Girls is an important book which speaks to people that up until now have had no voice.”
Nam’s book is valuable for its sharp insights in young women who live on their own terms, unbound by rules, drawing strength and power from one another. Nam said that her mission is “to increase cultural awareness, to teach each other the importance of self-love, and to promote self-expression.” She continued, “My dream is that these writings will inspire girls everywhere to speak out or — if they want – to YELL like hell.” She also pointed out that her work was unfinished, and invited “others to carry the torch and carry on.”
Sweatshop Warriors: Immigrant Women Workers
Take on the Global Factory
Miriam Ching Yoon Louie, whose mother is Chinese and father Korean, is national campaign media director of Fuerza Unida, a board member of the Women of Color Resource Center, and former media director of Asian Immigrant Women Advocates. She also co-authored with Linda Burnham Women’s Education in the Global Economy, an education workbook.
Through countless interviews, Louie records the voices of Chinese, Mexican, Korean and Thai women workers who pioneered the anti-sweatshop movement. They sounded the charge for the anti-WTO (World Trade Organization) legions. The author highlights the role these heroines have played in campaigns against Levi-Strauss, Donna Karan, and restaurants in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, among others. She zoomed in her lenses on these immigrant activists, who work a triple shift in caring for their families, sweating in factories, and building social change.
Louie exposes the ill effects of globalization in the American garment industry on poor women of color who break through class and gender conflicts and cultural and racial barriers to solve their problems. She documents how transnational corporations have exploited cheap labor and abused the well-being of these vulnerable women, who resist their assigned place at the bottom of the social ladder. She shows how they have challenged not only the corporate economy but also the model of union organizing and the battle for social justice.
Louie depicts stories of how these down-trodden laborers came to organize themselves and form “sewing sisterhood” and “standing army battalions” to make political inroads and connections and fight in the front lines of the class war to regain their dignity. She describes how the movement has strengthened the rights of immigrants, raised minimum wages, lowered bus fares for the poor, maintained affirmative action programs for women and people of color, and passed legislation to demand greater corporate accountability. She notes how global economic restructuring process and shifts in the composition of the U.S. workforce in the mid-1960s helped transform the manufacturers’ strategies to redistribute more wealth to oppressed workers. This description of leadership is an inspiration for community organizers and labor activists.
This book reevaluates the terms of free trade agreements and economic growth, and the unbalanced rewards for the prosperous in our society at the expense of the disadvantaged.