By Tracy Ng, Director of Membership & Operations
Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to learn more about some of the founding sisters of the Asian American and Pacific Islander women’s movement in the United States. In 1976, 20 years before NAPAWF was founded, a group of API women in the DC area established the Organization of Pan Asian American Women (“Pan Asia”) following a national conference hosted by the National Institute of Education. They were the only organization at the time that represented the voices of all women of Pacific Islander and Asian ancestry, and focused on the impact of national public policy issues on these “Pan Asian” women.
I came to realize that Pan Asia bore many similarities to NAPAWF. Not only were they a membership-based organization that worked on policy, they established a national office with staff for a couple of years. One of the main differences is that most of the members seemed to be in the DC area. In a transient city like DC, it was amazing to find a group of progressive API women who have firm roots in the area and a strong institutional memory of local and national movements over the past 30 years. Now that they are reaching the age of retirement, and no longer have children to take care of, they are interested in rekindling their activism. They were thrilled to see that the younger generation of API women activists, in the form of NAPAWF, was carrying on their legacy.
Pan Asia did a great job of documenting the work that they did–something that we as NAPAWF sisters need to do more deliberately. We need to ensure that future generations of activists know what has been achieved and pass on any tips and tools that will make their work easier so they don’t feel as though they are reinventing the wheel. In a monograph from 1985, Pan Asia cataloged their yearly accomplishments and the policy issues they were working on. Having this document allowed us to see what API women were working towards and against over 20 years ago. It also allowed us to recognize that our current work on civil rights, immigration and refugee rights and human rights is a continuation of the work they began many years ago.
There is a lot that NAPAWF sisters can learn from those that came before us. For example, it would be helpful to understand what happened to Pan Asia that caused them to disappear after so many years of vital involvement in the government and in the community. Nationwide networks are mentioned in the monograph, bringing the promise of other women across the country who can be drawn back into the movement and provide a history of the movements in our local communities. It is important that we share these stories so that the work of those who came before us is not lost on those who come after us.