Interview with Kaying Hang
In March 2011, Kaying Hang was interviewed on her thoughts about NAPAWF’s founding, what it means for us to be celebrating our 15th anniversary and what she sees in store for our next 15 years.
“When I first got involved with NAPAWF, I was the Refugee Health Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health. I was the very first co-chair of the NAPAWF National Governing Board (NGB). I was elected at our first summit here in MN. At that time, I and Kathy Imahara were elected as co-chairs. But shortly after our election, Kathy moved to Washington state and had a baby, so I quickly assumed the position of Chair. I saw NAPAWF through its early phase. I came from Minnesota with a handful of dynamic women from all around the country who were struggling with how do we move ahead with an Asian Pacific American women platform – how do we move ahead with this agenda. I was on the board for quite some time, and then I rotated off after I helped hire Kiran.
I knew we had a vision for this national organization and that it had these immense possibilities. I saw NAPAWF for what it would become, and I am so pleased that at 15 years old it is where it is. It has accomplished so much and that has a lot to do with the vision that was formed by the founding sisters, these amazing giants in the Asian Pacific American women’s movement. All these people who I at age 23 had only read about in books in college and here I am. These women have become such strong mentors and forces in my life, and have become such a strong support in my own development and personal growth. So I knew with these fearless sisters, nothing would be impossible. I am just blown away with what NAPAWF has been able to accomplish in these 15 years in what seems like a blink of an eye. We came together, some 100 plus women from all over the country, to breath life into a vision and this vision has almost become kitchen table vision now.
We are doing what we set out to do and that is to forge a national unified voice for Asian Pacific American women in the US that would transcend communities and boundaries. And I think we are doing that. I think it really hit me that NAPAWF came of age when we had our gathering in Los Angeles five years ago, when it was so good to see the founding sisters, the first NGB, my compatriots and colleagues, to come back and to see a new generation of young women all across the campuses embrace the NAPAWF vision – it was so great to see that and to know that our work has moved on to the next generation.
We all came to the table from different life realities and experiences, like Lora Jo Foo who is like your fierce sister activist on the east coast, and then someone like me and other women in Minnesota. We were trying to understand the political significance of the different aspects of our platform, like economic justice – we were trying to understand how these concepts had meaning and relevance in each of our lives. I have wonderful memories of those spirited conversations, and it was in those moments that I had my best learnings. Some of us came from backgrounds with a capital “p” in politics and others with a lower case “p”, but at the end of the day we had to come together and describe a way to have value and relevance in all of our experiences.
The March for Women was incredible – maybe it was a March for Choice – but it was in DC. It was so significant because here we were as NAPAWF, and we stood alongside the National Latina health Organization, the equivalent of NAPAWF for Latinas, and other groups for African American women, and other feminists who were out there making sure that women’ voices were heard and respected. Kiran was right in the middle of all of that organizing. It was so wonderful to see us going from our basement NGB conversations to be at a huge rally in Washington DC with thousands and thousands of women. We truly came of age then. The Los Angeles gathering was the bonding over how far we had come as a community. But in DC it became crystal clear to me that we weren’t just a voice for Asian Pacific American women, but we added value for women of color all across the board.
I am so proud of what NAPAWF has been able to accomplish. Some of the things I am most proud of is the fact that we have been able to build a strong chapter presence and build our infrastructure. For the next 15 years, I would like NAPAWF to continue to grow its infrastructure and our ability to mobilize our members and chapters. If we had staff resources in the different chapters on the ground we could do so much more and magnify what we do now, and we could go deeper, to work closer with the chapters on the platform issues all the while maintaining our national presence and voice. I would like to see NAPAWF increase our membership by 10 times to 4000 members. My goodness, if we were a membership organization of 4000 members strong, the opportunity we would have to create an impactful difference in our communities would be incredible.
Before NAPAWF, we often thought about national Asian Pacific organizations being led by East Asians, or South Asians, someone who has been here for multiple generations. But here we are at NAPAWF in 1996 or 97, the founding sisters saying, “let’s put up this Hmong refugee girl as the co-chair of this board.” At the outset the founding sisters were intentional about being inclusive of the entire Asian Pacific American family. This partly came about as there was a strong group of Hmong women who were involved at the get go. This effort was led by Kaying Yang who was on the national transition team when we had the summit here in MN.
This is one of my proudest affiliations, where we do good political work and issue organizing but at the end of the day we lived the values which the founding sisters had created.
Even though I was no longer on the board I was always available. So whenever Kiran or NAPAWF staff came to town, they could always call me. Once you are part of the NAPAWF family you are always part of the NAPAWF family. I really hope the familial sense continues as the organization grows.
Kaying Hang is the Associate Director at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR).