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  • Carolyn Lê

Dear Vietnamese Communities, Let’s Talk about Feminism 101


In 2017, the word of the year was ‘feminism,’ as it was the most searched, particularly following last year’s worldwide Women’s March on January 21st. Described as the one of the largest single political demonstration, those who participated in the march were a part of making history. There were a lot of people, and for San Jose in particular, it was clear that the marchers weren’t just women—there were men, children, non-binary folks, the differentially abled, and more. It sounds really diverse, but I noticed there was one thing missing: a large presence of Vietnamese people. I wondered, San Jose, a city with the biggest population of Vietnamese Americans, where were all the Vietnamese folks?

Yes, there were some Vietnamese marchers last year, but as someone who was born, raised, and never really left San Jose, I know that Vietnamese people do show up. I’ve seen the crowds, I’ve seen the traffic, and I've seen their animated spirit, but I didn’t get to see that in last year's march. Jackie Huynh, our photojournalist for the march, said it was "odd" that he didn't see the many Vietnamese people marching. While there was definitely a larger turn out at this year's 2018 Women's Mach San Jose and Van Lan Truong, a long-time community activist, was one of the speakers at the rally, I know that our community can do so much better!

It made me think about feminism in Vietnamese culture and whether Vietnamese families and Vietnamese social circles talk about women’s issues (although topics of feminism can range from gender, sexuality, immigrant rights, and more). I can only speak from my experience, and in my experience, feminism is rarely ever an organic topic of my friends’ and family’s conversations.

There are a number of reasons to why this may be, but one reason is that it makes people uncomfortable. When we talk about issues that affect the everyday lives of at least half of the people in the room, the other half feel uncomfortable, which then makes everyone in the room uneasy. So we avoid it all together for the sake of not rocking the boat, stirring the pot, adding fuel to the fire, or what have you. But has discomfort ever stopped Vietnamese people? Look at the the last two generations of Vietnamese people who lived through two major wars and an entire generation that casted their ropes out onto the South China Sea.

At Chopsticks Alley, we enjoy having difficult conversations that interrogate our diverse identities as Vietnamese Americans. Let’s start a conversation about feminism in our community!

So what does feminism fight for? To name a few:

1. Women’s Rights: Women’s rights are human rights, an obvious statement to make but some people forget that women are human beings who deserve to control their own bodies. Did you know that Vietnam is incredibly pro-choice?

2. Worker’s Rights: The radical notion that people deserve equal economic opportunities, e.g. equal pay. Are you aware that Vietnamese American women earn around 20% less than European American men? You’re a feminist if you think that’s unfair.

3. Immigrant Rights: From Women’s March Bay Area, “regardless of status or country of origin… migration is a human right and that no human being is illegal.” Since the Trump administration, Vietnamese American communities all over the United States are facing a very serious threat. If you’d like to learn more about what some progressive Vietnamese organizations are doing about deportation defense, check out PACT San Jose (multi racial and multi faith), VietUnity South Bay, VietUnity East Bay, and Viet Lead in Philedelphia, or visit the Immigration Defense Project for an online resource guide.

Feminism addresses all forms of inequality, such as issues regarding disability rights, the LGBTQ+ community, sexual harassment and assault, and more. It is inseparable from social justice as the philosophy advocates for everyone equitably, meaning the idea of feminism is to defend and stand in solidarity with those who are historically under-served and marginalized. Therefore, as immigrants and refugees, or children of immigrants and refugees, feminism advocates for the overall Vietnamese community.

Remember, "we are the leaders we've been looking for," and we've got to remind each other that there is so much more work to be done. Start the conversation and stand in solidarity with our vulnerable and less privileged community members.

To learn more about feminism and about the 2018 Women's March San Jose, check out our Women's March Bay Area 2018: The Many Faces of Feminism story. If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.

Carolyn Lê

Literature Editor

A craftsmen, an activist, and a critic, Carolyn is a San José native who studied Literature at University of California Santa Cruz. She has a deep appreciation for Vietnamese American literature and the Vietnamese American community. Driven by her educational background in literary criticism, she seeks to empower those who are historically marginalized, underrepresented, and under-served through storytelling and social justice organizing. Her hobbies include woodworking, cuddling with her furry four-legged children, and watching films with kickass women.

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