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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Exploring Asian American Feminism in Conversation with Asian American Feminist Collective’s Julie Kim

Julie Kim for Equal Means Equal campaign (Photo credit: Patrick Randak)

By Reappropriate Intern: V. Huynh

We are not “docile”, “obedient”, “exotic”. We know that the challenges for disabled, LGBTQI+ women of color are undoubtedly difficult to grapple with. For many Asian American feminists, the question of what Asian American feminism even is and why it is needed thus often arises. To Julie Kim, founding member of the Asian American Feminist Collective, Asian American feminism is a framework she often refers to and that she aims to cultivate with the Asian American Feminist Collective initiative. In New York, Julie describes the circumstances for how she personally became politicized as an Asian American feminist.

The following is a transcript of a conversation between myself and Julie, edited for length and clarity.

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The Resurgence of Cassandra Cain

Currently, Marvel X-men’s Jubilee is the unofficial face of Reappropriate. At one time, it was DC’s Cassandra Cain — a neuroatypical, mute Asian American adoptee who was the first Asian American and woman of color to take on the mantle of the Batgirl. She is also undisputedly one of the best martial artists in the DC Universe, owing to her abusive childhood when she was deprived of auditory language (or any form of social contact) and instead immersed in deadly martial arts training.

I grew up on Jubilee through her appearance in the 1990’s X-Men cartoon series. Cassandra Cain’s Batgirl occupies a different space in my fandom: her journey of self-exploration and self-agency as the newest Batgirl entered my life when I was just setting out to discover my own budding political activism. Cassandra’s efforts to reconcile her troubled past with her new life as part of the Bat-family resonated with my own exploration of political and personal identity. I love Jubilee; but, in many ways, I identify with Cassandra Cain.

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#PrettyPlaneGirl and White Exploitation of Women of Color

 By Guest Contributor: Muqing M. Zhang (@muqingmzhang)

On July 3, 2018, Rosey Blair, an aspiring actress and blogger, posted a nearly sixty tweet long Twitter thread, detailing every private interaction that a woman sitting in front of her on a plane had with the man sitting next to her, over the course of a roughly four-hour flight. (Editor’s Note: Reappropriate has chosen not to link the original Twitter thread in this post.)

Blair posted photos of the woman and a baby picture of herself that the woman had on her phone. Blair also heavily insinuated that the woman had sex with the man in the bathroom and shared personal information from the woman’s Instagram—all without the woman’s knowledge or consent. After its posting, the Twitter thread went astronomically viral, reaching nearly one million likes and 300,000 retweets as of today’s writing. It was covered in every major American news outlet including CNN, USA Today, and the Washington Post; the latter gushingly described the incident as the “love story of the summer.”

While many have received Blair’s thread as a simple feel-good love story—a love-at-first sight saga—it has been met with some pushback. Several writers have examined the story as an example of the prevalence of the dystopian gaze of social media over our everyday private lives, attributing a creepy voyeurism or even a malicious breach of privacy to Blair. Yet few have critically examined the saga through the lens of racialized and gendered power dynamics in online space.

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Ending “Male Chauvinism” In the Movement: Lessons from the Long Sixties

Richard Aoki

By: Mark Tseng-Putterman (@tsengputterman)

As Asian Americans living in the years of Amy Chua, Ajit Pai, Peter Liang and Nikki Haley, it’s easy to romanticize the Movement: those revolutionary years when “brothers and sisters” from Chinatowns, Little Tokyos, and Manilatowns across the country came together to stand with Black Power and confront the racist war in Vietnam. Together, they made pilgrimage to Manzanar, sat in at Wounded Knee, and walked out at San Francisco State University. Somewhere along the way, they invented “Asian America” as we know it.

A crash course in the history of the Asian American Movement has become part of the initiation process for young newcomers to the Asian American left, and for good reason. And yet, the images that get circulated from that era—of Black, brown, and yellow brothers wearing leather jackets and berets, fists raised and packing heat—hint at a masculinist underpinning that’s worth unpacking.

Take, for instance, the iconic image of Richard Aoki with Berkeley’s Asian American Political Alliance at a 1968 rally to free Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton. Aoki (who in 2012 was implicated as an alleged FBI informant) looks decidedly chic: clad in a black beret and sunglasses with a cigarette protruding from the corner of his mouth, he raises one hand in a fist while the other balances the now-iconic sign: “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power.” But reading this image and its circulation critically, we might ask: Is it Aoki’s revolutionary politics that resonates? Or is Aoki, as a Japanese American man embodying a militant kind of hypermasculinity, rendered iconic for easing modern anxieties about Asian male “emasculation”—that which Tamara Nopper calls “a homophobic and sexist preoccupation among many Asian Americans and our ‘allies’”?

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