We, members of the Auntie Sewing Squad, are heartbroken and angry at the deadly violence that occurred in Georgia on March 16, 2021. We mourn those who were killed, most of whom were Asian/Asian American women, and stand in solidarity with their loved ones. We are alarmed by the broader context of escalating anti-Asian violence.
At the start of the pandemic, the Auntie Sewing Squad began as a group of primarily Asian American women. Some of us had family connections to the garment industry or had learned to sew as a survival skill from immigrant relatives. It was clear to us that the pandemic would disproportionately harm BIPOC and other vulnerable communities, so we immediately directed our labor to serve those who most needed protection. Over time, we built strong relationships with our partners in mutual aid–Indigenous communities on reservations, asylum seekers, immigrant farm workers, activists in the Movement for Black Lives (who continued courageous protest work despite COVID), sex workers, incarcerated people, and more. Through sewing, we enacted forms of solidarity we thought were necessary for a more just society.
Our Asian American members have struggled with the increasing hostility in the U.S., as anti-Asian harassment and attacks have surged. We’ve been bombarded by alarming reports of our elders being struck or killed in the streets, we’ve heard slurs and seen vandalism, and we’re afraid to walk alone. Donald Trump and his supporters continue to encourage anti-Asian hate and violence by labeling COVID-19 the “China Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” and “Kung Flu.” All of these weigh heavily on us as we care for our community partners and each other.
Anti-Asian hate and gendered violence are not new. White supremacy and racism have been part of U.S. history for hundreds of years. Asian Americans have dealt with white supremacist hate and violence, legal exclusion of Asian immigrants to the United States, and ongoing U.S. imperialism in Asia. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, white mobs brutally attacked and kicked out Chinese and South Asian laborers. During the Great Depression, angry white mobs beat up and chased out Filipino laborers and burned their community halls. The current spate of anti-Asian violence and hate is a continuation of these histories.
Moreover, since the enactment of the 1875 Page Act that cast all Chinese immigrant women as prostitutes, there has been a long legacy of stereotyping Asian/Asian American women as subservient and exoticized sexual objects for white, male consumption. The U.S. military reinforced these stereotypes by building camptowns in Korea and perpetrating sexual violence against women during the Cold War and several U.S. wars in Asia. Mainstream U.S. popular culture continues to perpetuate these stereotypes in films, television shows, and other mass media.
The Auntie Sewing Squad’s work connects us to Asian Americans who provide care work to others. We stand in solidarity with massage workers and grieve the murdered spa workers. Although many have praised the Aunties’ care and mutual aid work, other forms of care continue to be deeply stigmatized. We seek to correct the racialized, gendered devaluation of all care work. We also seek to untangle the orientalist and sexualized conflation of Asian massage work with sex work, and to address the particular vulnerabilities of the women doing this work. Criminalization of sex work (and perceived sex work) leaves women unprotected from police violence. At the same time, service workers in industries including nail salons, spas, and massage parlors have a long history of advocating for their rights and creating alternate systems of care and autonomy. The Auntie Sewing Squad recognizes the labor and humanity of low-wage care and service workers despite their existence in an economy that exploits and undervalues their work.
The killings in Atlanta are a symptom of the much broader problems of white supremacy, misogyny, capitalism, and the intersectional oppression that makes Asian/Asian American women particularly vulnerable. We appreciate the many communities that stand with us in this moment of shock and grief and we call upon our communities to value caregiving in all of its manifestations. We oppose solutions that increase our reliance on policing and criminal punishment as this leads to racial profiling in the Black community and adversely impacts already stigmatized Asian-owned businesses and workers. Instead, we ask our colleagues, neighbors, and leaders to dismantle these oppressive systems and to move toward a more creative, community-based collective liberation.
#stopaapihate #stopasianhate #hateisavirus