After reading the stories of Chinese mothers who were forced to give up their children for adoption, Jillian Hammer said she has grown to sympathize with her own birth mother.
“Seeing that side of my history from their perspective challenged everything that I had been sort of conditioned to think,” said Hammer, a junior graphic and interactive design major.
Last month at the workshop, “‘Girls Make Better Ninjas’ (or I Can’t Be Angry, I’m Asian),” Hammer, whose biological mother placed her up for adoption when she was eight months old, shared her experience with other Asian-American women. The most recent workshop in this series, which is co-sponsored by the Asian Students Association, was held last Saturday.
“I talked about … how all my life people have told me that China’s, like, sexist for not wanting baby girls and stuff like that and finally growing up and sort of realizing that’s an oversimplification of a bigger situation there,” said Hammer, ASA’s director of advocacy.
The workshop, which is geared toward issues relating to Asian-American and Pacific-Islander women, but open to all, was created by Dr. Michelle Myers, an adjunct assistant professor in the Asian studies department. Myers, who has been developing this feminist workshop for the past year, said she created it so Asian-American women like Hammer could share their experiences with one another in a “safe space.”
“Sometimes they want to be able to kind of examine in a more reflective way things that are going on in their lives,” Myers said.
The format of the workshop, which Myers leads, is heavily discussion-based, but also involves time for free-writing and intellectual readings.
Hammer said being able to talk with other Asian-American women in a physical space was an “empowering” and “comforting” experience.
“It’s rare that we get to talk about [this] outside of, like Twitter or social media or online communities,” Hammer said.
At the first workshop on Feb. 20, attendees discussed their experiences with microaggressions, everyday insults or dismissals, connected to their Asian-American identity.
Yeahuay Wu, a junior math and computer science major, said she has experienced microaggressions that box her into a less assertive role.
“It’s not like physical violence or anything,” Wu said. “It’s just like somebody’s body language or the way that they speak to you, queuing you that you should act a certain way.”
“I always feel like there’s a sense that people feel like I’m not expected to assert myself, like I’m expected to be submissive,” she added.
Wu often gives in to this less assertive role, because it’s easier, she said.
“We talked about this in the workshop, where like it’s really hard to subvert the dominant narrative, even if you’re not that kind of person,” Wu said.
Another common microaggression Asian Americans experience, Hammer said, is people asking where they’re from.
“It’s called the perpetual foreigner stereotype, where just like people assume that if you’re Asian, that you don’t identify as American or that you weren’t raised here,” Hammer said.
“It’s really frustrating because it’s a way that I constantly feel othered and sort of reminded of my difference from other people,” she added.
Myers, who is also a member of the spoken word poetry duo “Yellow Rage,” said another issue that affects Asian-American women specifically is sexual objectification.
“There’s the stereotype that many of us feel like we come up against … like people are expecting us to be submissive and quiet and demure,” Myers said. “Particularly with men, we’re always in that submissive role or being subjugated.”
Some of Yellow Rage’s poems like “I’m a Woman, Not a Flava” specifically speak to this sexual objectification, as well as the struggles faced by the Asian-American community in regard to stereotypes and racism.
“Every day of my life I’ve had to deal with race and racism, you know, every single day I deal with somebody who asks me, ‘What are you?’” Myers said.
Hammer said she believes Myers is a good role model for Asian-American women.
“She’s very unapologetic and isn’t afraid to use her voice and her talents to stand up for a bigger issue,” Hammer said. “She really just is the embodiment of like defying stereotypes of women.”
The next workshop Myers will lead in the series will be held on April 16 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Room 217A of the Student Center.
Jenny Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.