Determining Our Own Stories

August 16, 2013

Juhee Kwon '14 is a Royce Fellow researching Asian American reproductive justice and interviewing AA women activists.

I am currently in the Bay Area (living in a Berkeley co-op), researching Asian American reproductive justice and interviewing AA women activists. I had originally formulated an interest in the topic of reproductive justice via the reading of Dorothy Robert's brilliant historical analysis of Black women's reproductive oppression in her book, Killing the Black Body. The book remains a personal favorite of mine, not only in the eye-opening natures of her arguments but also her clarity of voice throughout the dense material.

After reading Killing the Black Body, I set out to find an analogous book that used the lens of reproductive rights to examine American American women and their yellow bodies, if you will. I came up empty handed. There was virtually nothing upon the subject, which serves as a testament not to the lack of similar oppression for Asian American women but rather the silencing of their stories under the all-encompassing "model minority" myth. The limited literature I found were the very basic, almost clinical assessments of the Asian American community -- a list of numbers and data that were churned out and never thoroughly analyzed. Vietnamese women have the highest rate of cervical cancer. Over 20% of Korean Americans do not have health insurance. Sex trafficking and deportation are huge issues for the Asian American community. Many AA women do not use hormonal contraception. But the recurring thought I had in mind was why?

The danger of simply leaving these data hanging is that if accompanying historical, social, and economic explanations are not presented, others will decide for us what the reason for this health disparity is. And usually it's race.

Race -- not in the sense that historical of colonialism in Asia has sexualized the female body and the model minority myth has led to lower rates of intervention and funding in these communities -- but rather that our race is inherently dirty and diseased or perhaps too traditional and conservative to talk about sex. This is why I wanted to dig up the truth and tell our own stories surrounding reproductive rights.

Relevant literature has begun to emerge, such as Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize For Reproductive Justice and Asian American Women by Lora Jo Foo. However, the struggle to have our voices be heard and determine our own stories continues. In the midst of my research, I found several oral history archives, containing Asian American women activists' stories. Hearing the actual voices of AA women activists is incredibly powerful. I urge you to check them out: