Women’s March MN & the Ongoing Struggle for “Unity”

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Uyenthi Tran

On Wednesday afternoon, I was looking for more details about Women’s March Minnesota, and came upon the list of 20+ speakers lined up for the rally. I noticed a few women of color and American Indian women were listed, several of whom I look up to, including elected officials like Senator Patricia Torres Ray and Rep. Peggy Flanagan. As I scrolled through the profile pictures of the speakers, though, I realized that there were absolutely zero speakers from the Asian American community. I emailed the march’s leadership team, began tweeting at them, asked my friends to help me, and waited to hear back.

On Thursday, the eve of the inauguration, there was the Our Mnisota: A Racial Equity Rally at the Capitol, hosted by Voices for Racial Justice. Speakers included Jenny Srey and Montha Chum, two of the women behind RELEASE MN 8, who called for the Governor and other state leaders to stand up for immigrant and refugee families. These women have been working tirelessly since the end of last summer to bring their loved ones home – the MN 8 refers to the eight Cambodian Americans from Minnesota who were detained by ICE last August (read more about the story in this City Pages article here). Considering the Women’s March Minnesota manifesto names the right to just immigration policies as a core value, along with the importance of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989), including speakers like Jenny and Montha could have been a perfect way to signal-boost a local and timely issue. But then, there is no mention of Asian American women in the manifesto, either. I wish my disappointment wasn’t always this predictable.

Around midnight on Thursday the 19th, I got an email response from lead march organizer Alicia Donahue, letting me know that the “full list” of speakers and performers could be found on their website – but still, no AAPID women speakers. So, I continued emailing and tweeting, and so did my friends.

On Friday night, after the inauguration and a day-long retreat where we didn’t have access to news or social media, I was catching up on my feeds and came across Shing Yin Khor’s (@sawdustbear) “Long Live Resistance Auntie” illustration, based on a photograph that went viral yesterday: 

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The photo and illustration depict an Asian American woman, middle fingers up, during the inauguration ceremony on Friday. After the woman was identified as Anita Yavich, Associate Professor of Theater Design at SUNY Purchase and a Lecturer in Theater at Princeton University, Shing Yin Khor tweeted “The internet has identified #resistanceauntie and I’m crying because she is EXACTLY the person I wanted to be at 21.”

I loved the photo and the illustration. Here was Anita Yavich, showing up and being seen – not just being seen differently than how we usually see Asian American women, but being seen at all. The images resonated with many of us:

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So, after sharing this with the Women’s March MN and my three Twitter followers, I went to bed after packing a bag for the march, with extra warm accessories and snacks for myself and my colleagues and friends. When I woke up, I had finally gotten my answer from Women’s March MN, in a tweet sent after midnight (less than 12 hours before the march was to begin):

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Bo Thao-Urabe, Network Director at Coalition of Asian American Leaders, does amazing work in the Twin Cities around organizing and engaging Asian American leadership. I’m so glad she was invited to be part of the rally. I hope to find out who Annie Vang is soon, but as of Saturday night, January 21, neither Bo or Annie had been added to profile pics of other rally speakers. I heard that Bo closed out the rally, and I hope that Annie received the opportunity to speak too. While I was caught towards the back of the march and didn’t get a chance to hear the speakers, I was happy to see so many people (official estimates put the MN march at 90-100K) energized and ready to resist.

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The Women’s March Minnesota was successful in bringing out thousands of Minnesotans, including Asian Americans from across multiple cultural communities. I hope the march organizers will leverage this energy in the days, weeks, and years to come. I hope that everybody who talks about the importance of unity principles and intersectionality puts these values into practice. As we move forward, I need allyship in terms of people noticing who has a seat at the table as well as part of the conversation – and who is invisibilized and silenced.

It shouldn’t have been an 11th hour effort to add two Asian American women speakers to a line up of 20+ speakers. When 53% of white women voted for Trump, I do need the other 47% to step up now, since we can’t go back in time. But when it’s mainly white women who organize an huge event that proclaims to be a “march for the rights of marginalized communities, for just and equitable systems, and for the freedom of all peoples who make up our diverse nation,” I also need them to build and collaborate with all of us, where women of color and American Indian women aren’t just tokens or after-thoughts in a line-up or program.

Asian Americans from across our 40+ cultural communities have been resisting. And now, we have #ResistanceAuntie goals. Perhaps we can go forward together – if you’ll show what you mean when you say we

UyenThi Tran Myhre (she/her/hers) works in higher ed and likes cats, especially her own. Find her @vanitycake on Twitter.

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