Angry Asian Girls
ANGRY ASIAN GIRLS began as a Teespring fundraiser. Seven of us were sitting in a conference room at the Northeastern Asian American Institute on a Sunday morning trying to brainstorm ways to raise some fast funds, given we had put off fundraising for our internship program until the last month. So far, we had “fundrager", “bake sale”, and “ask people for money” spelled out on the whiteboard, and the level of enthusiasm in the room was at a flat nonexistent. We had spent the semester working at the Massachusetts State House, putting up with a whole lot of White nonsense, learning how to vent about that nonsense in safe circles on Sunday mornings, and coming to understand the multitude of ways in which Asian American women are marginalized in every sphere of life. We started talking about the mental health issues Asian American women face, illnesses many of us feel the direct impact of in our daily lives. We recalled a presentation outlining the startling fact that most medical technicians and doctors aren’t even trained to look for signs of breast cancer in AAPI women. Like many Sundays before this one, we found ourselves sitting at table stewing in equal parts passion and outrage. We felt unheard—silenced, even. We were angry. By the end of the conversation, we had pasted ANGRY ASIAN GIRLS in repeating text onto what is now our trademark mustard yellow square in bold, italicized Helvetica letters (cc: Drake), and submitted the digital design to Teespring. Although none of us knew it in that moment, we had just coined a collective identity that would change everything to come.
We’re nearing the end of 2016 and I think we can all collectively agree this year has been one long nightmare. But the metaphorical silver lining is that the tragedies of this year have enabled entire movements of people to utilize online spaces as tools to create visibility in otherwise marginalized communities. The Black Lives Matter movement is perhaps the most notable example of hashtag activism, and its founders have faced a shocking amount of critique on their methods of organizing (read: White oppressors telling Black people how they would like them to voice their oppression). Few things elicit a visceral reaction of equal parts groan and eyeroll from me quite as well as the phrase “just an internet activist.”
We’re currently in an age of quick clicks: online petitions you’ll forget you signed a week from now and easy-to-curate profiles that can make just about anyone look like a well-informed individual. Certainly, slacktivism is a very real term, and rightfully so. We all know by now that setting an opaque overlay of the French flag as your temporary profile picture did just as much for the grieving Parisian people as downloading the free bonus filters on VSCO did for your Instagram aesthetic.
But there is a stark distinction between slacktivism and using the magical powers of the World Wide Web to advance political groundwork and create actual, tangible change—like, IRL. I’d like to think of our collective as the latter.
As 2016 has proved to us time and time again that it’s only going to keep getting worse (although we hope November 8th might put an end to this nightmare), our mission and projects have gained momentum in ways we hadn’t previously thought possible. This is the part where I shamelessly attribute all of our successes to the aforementioned magical cloud that is The Internet.
I think our generation, having grown up in this internet era, has a tendency to discount everything we see online as trivial in relation to the larger context of social movements and issues going on in our “real world.” This translates into the language we use online versus, say, in a letter to a potential employer. I find myself sharing links to my work with the caption, “Check out this thing I did!” about something I put a lot of time and effort into, which is funny in that endearing, self-deprecating sort of way, but it’s also a way to lowball my skill set and appease my internet friends. And when it comes down to it, the social movements that have taken our country by storm in this past year are in large part due to hashtag activism. The things happening in our real world are a direct result of “this thing I did,” so maybe it’s important to give ourselves a little more credit, y’all.
Hashtag activism is something ANGRY ASIAN GIRLS has adopted as our primary mode of communication. We’ve found that it can be not only useful in physical organizing tactics, but it can also be empowering and reaffirming. My cofounder Dahn Bi Lee-Hong and I have used it to align our mission and goals with local organizations, such as Asian American Millennials Unite, and We, Ceremony. We just teamed up with both of these nonprofits to put on an enormously successful panel and poetry slam on the importance of voting in the upcoming elections. Hashtagging on Instagram and Twitter have expanded our outreach from Boston and New York to across the globe, all in a matter of months.
I look back on that misty Sunday in April of this year and it seems like a figment of my imagination. Our outreach has since quadrupled. Our team has grown and redefined itself just as we are growing and redefining what it means to be Asian American, to be woman and femme and non-binary, to be activist and ally. We consider ourselves a solidarity campaign in line with the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement, and in loving support of and solidarity with all queer people of color.
From Emerson’s SheCult to rising movements like the Art Hoe Collective, we know we’re in good company. We strive to reclaim the word “girls” and push back against the model minority myth. We are expanding the definition of femininity and tearing down fetishization of AAPI women and femmes. We are shifting the narrative of what it looks like to be Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Desi. We are here. We are taking up space. We are angry. We are ready.
Photo By: Allison Nguyen