WASHINGTON – It is more important than ever to recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and to honor the fierce Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) feminists who have been at the forefront of intersectional feminism and racial and social justice movements for decades.
We recognize suffrage leader Dr. S.K. Chan as well as Patsy Mink who in 1965 became the first Asian American woman and first woman of color to serve in the U.S. Congress. She was a key author and sponsor of Title IX, which outlawed sex discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal funding.
Decades later AAPI sheroes are still leading change. Senators Mazie K. Hirono and Tammy Duckworth, and Representative Grace Meng moved mountains to get the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed in the Senate by a historically bipartisan vote of 94-1. And Vice President Kamala Harris is making history as the first person of South Asian descent and the first woman to hold the Office of the Vice President.
And while it is so vital to take this moment and honor these women and the many other AAPI activists and leaders, we must also reflect on the challenges facing this community, especially the continuing rise in hate crimes. For more than a year the coronavirus pandemic unleashed a torrent of anti-Asian violence, as recently evidenced by the horrific shootings at three Atlanta-area spas in which six Asian women were murdered. The website, Stop AAPI Hate, received 3,800 reports of anti-Asian hate from March 2020 to February 2021, with 35% of discriminatory acts happening at businesses and with women reporting hate incidents twice as often as men.
In addition to rising violence, AAPI communities are also facing systemic barriers to economic justice, health equity, and education. The “model minority” myth, a term co-opted by politicians to create racial divides, has rendered a very diverse population invisible in discussions of racial bias and inequalities in America.
One of the biggest barriers to addressing those injustices is the startling lack of data available about the unique needs of various AAPI communities. The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) recently released a survey showing that 8 in 10 AAPI women want their elected officials to better understand their perspectives and how they differ from other communities. NOW supports that call for expanded study and an increased focus from policymakers on the social injustices and violence that is having such a traumatic impact on this community.
Even as there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel in this pandemic, we know that the bias, hate, and brutality against the AAPI community will not abate anytime soon. NOW and its chapters and members are committed to being allies in any way that we can be. We need to start by listening to the voices of AAPI legislators, organizations, and activist leaders and joining them in demanding long-overdue change in this country.