Students Meet “Role Models” at Asian American Women’s Political Initiative

In celebration of Massachusetts’ newly-elected Asian-American women in government, eight members of the Asian Women Empowerment (A.W.E.) affinity group on campus traveled to Cambridge, Mass. last Saturday, February 2.

There, they attended the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative (AAWPI), a conference that addressed the empowerment of Asian-American women in local, state, and national government. A.W.E., the club on campus that attended the event, meets once a month to discuss issues pertinent to Asian women.

The conference’s panel featured Tram Nguyen, the first Vietnamese American woman elected to Mass. state legislature, Mehreen N. Butt, the first Muslim American woman elected to Mass. town council, and Maria Robinson, the first Korean American woman elected to Mass. state legislature.

According to Co-Founder of A.W.E. Hazel Koh ’21, she saw the women on the panel as role models who prove that Asian-American women have the ability to be in positions of institutional power.

Koh said, “I think in general, going to this event is really inspiring to see people that look like me in positions of power. It gives me a feeling that I have a voice too. I really like that. It’s really comforting to know that so many people support this cause.

Founded in 2009 by a group of Asian-American women in response to the issues facing the Asian-American community, AAWPI is the only political leadership organization of Asian American women in the country. Its mission is to bring attention to the needs of Asian-American citizens in the areas of mental health, women’s health, and domestic violence through increased representation in the government, according to the AAWPI website.

The conference commenced with an opening speech by the founder of AAWPI, Diana Hwang, and opening remarks from Ayanna Pressley, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts’ seventh congressional district.

AAWPI was moderated by Jessica Tang, the first person of color and member of the LGBTQIA+ community elected as President of the Boston Teacher’s Union. She hosted a panel in which members discussed different experiences in politics and hopes for the future in regards to Asian-American women empowerment in politics.

Those women have begun the process of diversifying political representation in the government, according to Katherine Wang ’21, a Co-Founder of A.W.E .

“We were talking about how, in the future, the goal would be to not have an event like this at all because that would mean it is so commonplace that it’s unnecessary to celebrate,” said Wang.

In recent elections, the country has made historical wins with a record high of Asian-American women and women of color elected at the federal, state, and local level, according to the AAWPI website. Currently, four Asian-American women serve in the U.S. Congress, one in a statewide elective office, and Asian-American women hold 37 out of the total 8,000 seats in state legislature, according to the AAWPI website.

Attendee Karen Sun ’20 believes that these records of Asian-American women participation in the government are breaking the stereotypes and expectations of the role of Asian-American women in society.

Sun wrote, “Throughout Asian-American history, Asians have been deemed as foreign, pushing them out of public office and erasing their role in the political sphere. Asian-Americans have been denied a place in government and refused a political identity, and to see so many women countering this narrative and running for office gives me hope.”

According to Sun, however, there is still much more to be done for the representation of Asian-American women in government.

Sun wrote, “[I would like to see] more Asian-American women running for office, higher rates of Asian voting participation, stronger Asian activist community, and more programs like AAWPI that support Asian American women in politics because as of now, the program is only in the Northeast.”