NAPAWF*Sacramento Celebrating 15 years of making history in the Asian Pacific Islander Women Movement

As NAPAWF reflects on the last 15 years of our organizational history and remembers the trailblazers that have made this longevity possible, NAPAWF*Sacramento will present “15 Historically Significant Moments in Asian and Pacific Islander Women History” over the course of the week of December 5, 2011.

Earlier this Fall, NAPAWF Bay Area profiled 15 of the fiercest Asian and Pacific Islander women leaders among us today, as nominated by their peers.  We learned about their passions, the people who inspire them and the movements they lead.  NAPAWF*Sacramento was inspired to build on this momentum by taking a look back in history and trace some of our roots as Asian American women.  We hope that this will provide a renewed perspective for some, a refresher for others and, ultimately, ignite collective action to build a movement for social justice and human rights for all Asian and Pacific Islander women and girls.


1)  Page Act of 1875:

The Page Act of 1875 was designed to prevent “undesirable” immigrants from Asia which included any Asian woman engaging in prostitution.  This led to widespread discrimination and severely limited immigration of any Chinese women.  As a result, the Chinese population decreased significantly in the United States because the restriction of Chinese women also restricted number of children born.  This was the nation’s first federal immigration law and the precursor to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.


American Exclusion of Chinese


2)  Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907:

This agreement was never ratified by Congress and remained an informal agreement between Japan and the US before the adoption of the Immigration Act of 1924 (which included the Asian Exclusion Act that stagnated the Asian population in the US).  The Gentleman’s Agreement allowed Japanese immigrants residing in the United States to stay, but prohibited any new migration from Japan to the United States.  However, the exception was children and wives.  The result was an increase in “picture brides” whereby Japanese men living in the US became acquainted with their future brides almost exclusively through the exchange of photographs.  The population of Japanese Americans increased as the women immigrated to the US to marry and start families.  “Picture brides” were also common for Korean men living in the US at this time.


Japanese Women Arriving to CA


Group of Japanese Women


3)  Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965:

Our immigration laws have not been updated since this act was implemented.  This watershed legislation lifted the strict bans on immigration to the US and created the quota and preference system we know today.  This system placed a priority for US citizens and legal permanent residents to reunite with their families under the “family reunification” preference.  Under the new system, the US became increasingly diverse and contributed tremendously to our current landscape.  As the most recent US immigrants, Asian Americans took advantage of this new law and started to reunite their families by sponsoring their parents, siblings and young children.

4) Attack on Pearl Harbor- December 7, 1941:

December 7, 2011 marks the 70th Anniversary of the day that Imperial Japanese Navy bombed the US naval base at Pearl Harbor.  Two months later, Executive Order 9066 would be issued and call for the unlawful internment of everyone of Japanese ancestry living in the US.  This social injustice gave rise to some civil rights leaders that have become legends like Mitsuye Endo and Yuri Kochiyama.  Mitsuye Endo was a Nisei, or second generation Japanese American, and the only woman to file a habeas corpus petition and contest the internment of Japanese Americans.  Yuri Kochiyama also attributed the birth of her social awareness to the Japanese American internment.  She became a strong human rights activist that integrated movements by crossing racial boundaries, notably fighting alongside Malcolm X.  Later, she and her husband, Bill, joined the Japanese Redress and Reparations movement that eventually culminated into part of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which granted $20,000 and a letter of apology signed by the president to most Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II.  Afterward, Kochiyama continued to advocate for a redress for African Americans.

5) Refugee Act of 1980:

This Act is the most comprehensive law to address refugee admissions and resettlement in the United States.  It was enacted just as images of refugee camps and “boat people” flooded the evening news in the US.  An influx of refugees from Southeast Asian countries was admitted into the US and many were resettled into areas that were under resourced.  Many communities became linguistically and culturally isolated, others migrated and formed ethnic enclaves.  They were admitted as legal “resident aliens”.  However, in starting in 2002, the US would deport some of these refugees with misdemeanors back to the third world countries from which they escaped, most were men who were the breadwinners in their families.  These deportation policies further fragmented these refugee communities. 

6) Patsy Mink First Asian American Woman Elected to US Congress- 1965:

Congressmember Patsy Mink, from Hawaii, was not only the first Asian American woman to serve in Congress, but also the first woman of color.  She later became the first Asian American to seek the Democratic nomination for President.  She was a pioneer in every sense of the word, she authored landmark gender equity legislation including the Title IX amendment to the Higher Education Act which prohibited gender discrimination by federally funded institutions.  Patsy Mink was a respected coalition builder who also authored the Early Childhood Education Act and the Women’s Educational Equity Act; Mink’s colleagues applauded her for all of her efforts to advance equity. 

7) Garment Workers Justice Campaign, 1992:

Photo: Rick Gerharter

This successful three-year campaign brought attention to the poor working conditions of seamstresses and the victory spurred more garment worker protections.  Twelve Chinese seamstresses in California were denied $15,000 worth of back pay when their employer, Lucky Sewing Company, went bankrupt.  These seamstresses were contracted to sew dresses for the famed clothing designer, Jessica McClintock.  Eventually the Department of Labor reached an agreement with Jessica McClintock and the seamstresses which granted the back pay as well as increased worker protections such as toll free bilingual hotlines for the garments workers to call with questions regarding hours and wages. 

8 ) “Reproductive Justice” Coined, 1994:

The term “Reproductive Justice” was coined by Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice because the word “choice” did not apply to communities of color because their “choices” were limited.  RJ integrates social justice, human rights with reproductive rights.  The term later made its debut in the Washington Post during the height of the healthcare reform debate during the Clinton administration.  Reproductive justice is one of NAPAWF’s core issues. 

9) Violence Against Women Act of 1994:

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed by President Clinton and provides vital protections to women in the U.S. against domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. Created in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000, VAWA was once again reauthorized in 2005 after intense advocacy efforts of organizations like NAPAWF.  VAWA 2005 reauthorization provided an opportunity to create more culturally appropriate services for APA women and APA immigrant women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence. So far, VAWA has created additional services for immigrants and communities of color.

10) United Nations Fourth World Conference in Beijing, 1995:

Asian and Pacific Islander American female activists at this conference were confronted with two profound realizations. First, although they were gathered in an Asian country, they had no organized voice for Asian or Pacific Islander women from the United States to participate in the official UN conference.  Second, although each of them as individuals worked long and hard on their respective issues (safety, economic justice, reproductive rights, equal educational access, health, immigrant and refugee rights, civil rights and LGBTQ rights) their work was not linked in any sustained or meaningful way back home in the United States. Despite the difficult logistics of organizing in a rain-soaked suburb of Beijing, 100 women came together over two caucuses and pledged to build and sustain a national, progressive, multi-issue movement of API women in the United States when they returned home.

11) National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum was Founded, 1996:

NAPAWF*Sacramento sisters participating in a 5k fun run fundraiser for a local domestic violence shelter, My Sister's House.

The founding of NAPAWF happened because a group of fierce, determined sisters had a vision for API women and girls in the US and were relentless in realizing this vision.  Kiran Ahuja was the founding Executive Director of NAPAWF from 2003-2008.  Through her leadership, Kiran built NAPAWF from an all-volunteer organization to one with a paid professional staff who continue to spearhead successful policy and education initiatives, and expanded NAPAWF’s volunteer chapters and membership across the country.  In 2009, Kiran was appointed by President Obama to be the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

Founding NAPAWF Executive Director, Kiran Ahuja with current NAPAWF ED, Miriam Yeung

12) New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, 2010:

On August 31, 2010, New York Governor Patterson signed into law the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. It reformed New York State law to guarantee basic work standards and protections for the nannies, caregivers, and housekeepers who keep New York families functioning and make all other work possible. The Bill of Rights is a comprehensive response to domestic workers’ vulnerability to abuse and mistreatment, and works to counter domestic workers’ exclusion from most labor protections. This victory came after a six-month campaign by a multiethnic mass of worker-directed groups including Domestic Workers United, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Andolan Organizing South Asian Workers and Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees. The Bill of Rights benefits New York’s domestic workforce, which is made up of mostly Caribbean, Latin American, African and South Asian women immigrants.

13) Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 2010:

California Young Women's Collaborative- CSU Fullerton cohort leads a press conference on healthcare reform. Pictured: Stephen Chang and Nina Nguyen

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Affordable Care Act) into law. This historic bill includes significant improvements for Asian Pacific Islander (API) women and girls, such as banning insurance companies from discriminating against women by denying care based on preexisting conditions. NAPAWF advocated for the inclusion of women of color during the debate on passage of PPACA and continues to advocate on behalf of women of color and immigrant women in the ongoing struggle to ensure complete implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

14) Filipina Nurses Win Discrimination Lawsuit, 2011:

Corina Capunitan Yap, Anna Rowena Rosales, Hachelle Natano, and Jazziel Granada are the four Filipina nurses that challenged their termination from a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.  The US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission decided that these nurses were discriminated against because they spoke Tagalog.  Their former employer instituted an “English only” policy, but the EEOC found that they did not discipline others in the same manner and instead singled out the Filipina nurses.  These fierce Filipinas set a precedence with their lawsuit.

15) NAPAWF co-leads We Belong Together Campaign, 2011:

NAPAWF, along with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, led a delegation of women leaders from over two dozen national human rights, women’s, labor, and immigrant rights organizations – AFL-CIO, Center for Reproductive Rights, Moms Rising, Feminist Majority and many others – to Georgia in September as part of the growing national resistance to anti-immigrant laws. The delegation heard the real stories of the women and children affected by Georgia’s anti-immigrant bill (HB 87), a copycat legislation of Arizona’s controversial and costly SB1070.

The We Belong Together campaign is an initiative that is co-led by NAPAWF with the mission of bringing attention to the ways unjust immigration laws affect immigrant women and their families. 

May Day Rally for Immigrant Rights, 2011- NAPAWF Bay Area and CYWC Irvine cohort representing their immigrant <3