Exploring Politics Within Politics With Community Organizer Tonia Bui

Tonia Bui, founder of Politics Within Politics and a community organizer in Montgomery County. (Photo credit: Tonia Bui)

By Reappropriate Intern: V. Huynh

Where are women of color in politics? Are they in the decision-making engines? In local city or county councils? On the Hill? Most importantly, are women of color represented in positions where we have actual impact? And if not, why not?

Tonia Bui, creator of Politics Within Politics, incites readers to confront these questions in approaching our own local and national politics. By recounting personal and anecdotal experiences that stem from her extensive career at the Capitol and her current work running a local campaign in Montgomery County, Maryland, as well as the stories of other local women of color, Tonia bravely defines what it means to be an Asian American woman within politics.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tonia about the beginning of Politics Within Politics, the issues women of color experience in the political world, and Asian American feminism as a framework within politics. The following is a transcript of our conversation, edited for flow and clarity.

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Behind LA Chinatown’s Hip Food Scene: Baos, Coffee, and Gentrification

The interior of the restaurant J&K Hong Kong Cuisine. (Photo credit: F. Huynh)

By Guest Contributor: Frances Huynh

Read the first of this series: “The Gentrification of Los Angeles Chinatown: How Do We Talk About It?”

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A quietness lingers as we set up shop. Empty streets fill with the jostle of clothing racks. The multiple clicks of stoves turning on. The soft smack of noodle to plate. Doors open.

On the top floor of Far East Plaza stands 香港美食坊 (J&K Hong Kong Cuisine), a 茶餐廳 (cha chaan teng — a specific type of Hong-Kong style diner). Cantonese shows play on the television in the background, while seniors chat with friends and family at the tables all around. For many of Chinatown’s residents, it is one of a handful of go-to restaurants in the neighborhood for plates of Cantonese comfort food. Peter, a long-time resident, enjoys eating their 海鮮粥 (seafood congee) and 水餃 (dumplings). “很平 (It’s very inexpensive),” Lee Tai Tai, another resident, says. The restaurant is an important community space, providing Chinatown’s seniors an accessible place to hang out and to socialize with friends over dishes reminiscent of those found in the homelands they immigrated from. They also frequent other small shops, including New Dragon, Zen Mei Bistro, and Fortune Gourmet Kitchen, in addition to larger banquet-style restaurants such as CBS Seafood Restaurant, Regent Inn, Full House Seafood Restaurant, and Golden Dragon.

Every morning Monday to Friday, Julie, who has lived in Chinatown for over thirty years, joins about sixty other seniors to eat at Golden Dragon, a longstanding Cantonese restaurant commonly frequented by residents and visiting families. She enjoys eating the healthy meals provided by the “senior nutrition lunch” program held there.1St. Barnabas Senior Services is a non-profit organization that provides free nutritious meals to low-income adults 60 years and older at fourteen congregate meals sites including Golden Dragon. There is a suggested donation. Afterwards, she walks home to her apartment several blocks away and spends the rest of the day listening to the radio and watching Hong Kong dramas. When dinner time comes, she walks to one of several restaurants in the neighborhood to buy what she considers “fast food”: convenient Chinese takeout. By then, she notes, time just passes by.

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Fighting for equal pay for Southeast Asian American women

Cropped Infographic for AAPI Equal Pay Day (Photo Credit: NAPAWF)

By Guest Contributors: Sung Yeon Choimorrow and Vimala Phongsavanh, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

Disaggregated data indicates that Southeast Asian women in the U.S. are making on average 61 cents to the white male dollar — and this pay disparity is hurting their ability to make choices about their bodies, their lives, and their families.

Imagine having to work an extra nine months to for your pay to catch up to that of a white American man. For millions of Southeast Asian American women, this is no fictional scenario.

In 1981, Vimala’s parents and sister fled the country of Laos to escape political persecution and arrived in Rhode Island as refugees. Just a few months after settling in, her mother, Kongdeaune, began working at a factory where she ended up being paid the same minimum wage for the next 35 years of her life. She worked many 16 hour days just to be able to afford to give her kids a comfortable life and send some money back home to her family in Laos — and she did all of this without paid sick leave or vacation. Vimala saw the weight of the financial burden take a toll on her mother’s emotional and physical health. Women like Kongdeaune would have greatly benefited from equal pay and — and it’s about time they get it.

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Still Processing: Imagining Myself as Asian/American

Two Asian Americans chat over some Starbucks. (Photo credit: Roger Kisby / New York Times)

By Guest Contributor: Yaoyao Liu

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a series by Yaoyao Liu, reflecting on an episode of the “Still Processing” podcast on Asian American identity.

For their second installment on the experiences of Asian Americans on the Still Processing podcast, Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris focus on the interlocking issues of dating, politics, and professional life. Their curation of voicemails, guest speakers, and personal insight presents a vivid array of perspectives that all touch upon the idea of how Asian American people are seen, and how we see ourselves.

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Building Asian American Feminism: In Conversation with the Asian American Feminist Collective

(Photo credit: Asian American Feminist Collective)

By Reappropriate Intern: V. Huynh

Serving as a new and exciting Asian American feminist coalition-building effort, the Asian American Feminist Collective (AAFC) launches September 19th with an official launch party at  6pm – 8pm at Ode to Babel (772 Dean St Prospect Heights, NY 11238). The members urge anyone and everyone to come and show solidarity! Non-NYC folks can also subscribe and stay tuned for future online initiatives.

I asked members of the Collective — Senti Sojwal, Tiffany Tso, Rachel Kuo, and Julie Kim — to discuss their definitions of and ideas around Asian American feminism. The following is a transcript of collected responses and conversations between myself and some of the Asian American Feminist Collective’s members, edited for length and clarity.

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