I kicked off 2018 by facilitating a workshop on Asian American and Pacific Islander Women in Leadership at a AAPI conference at Stanford. As the women in the room, ranging from high school students to seasoned professionals, shared their experiences, I realized our struggles have not changed from past generations. Last year was celebrated as the “Year of the Woman” and yet as a woman of color, I could not fully take ownership or feel a part of that movement. The face of the movement was someone who did not look like me and did not share similar experiences growing up as a daughter of refugees.
Today is International Women’s Day and in my reflection of that workshop, I simultaneously felt disheartened and hopeful but knew that ultimately things needed to change in order for us to truly see progress for women of color. What was I going to do differently in order to pave the way for other women of color to get there?
This past weekend, I listened to a podcast called “Teach Girls Bravery, not Perfection” by Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. All my life, I’ve been taught that perfection is part of my identity. At home, my parents taught me how to be the ‘perfect’ Hmong daughter so that when I got married it would prepare me to be the ‘perfect’ Hmong daughter-in-law. In my professional life, I looked at draft emails way too many times before sending them; I only spoke up in meetings when I felt that I had crafted the ‘perfect’ response; and doubted my abilities in areas I knew I was strong in. In her speech, Reshma shares that in order for us (women, everyone) to progress, we need to teach young women to take risks and be comfortable with imperfection. For me, this meant I would have to unlearn what I have practiced my entire life.
“Becoming brave” isn't an overnight sensation. You don't just wake up and jump off buildings. In my own small ways, I’ve started on my own journey of bravery. In meetings, I make it a point to share my ideas first even if it’s not fully baked. When I organize, I am learning to trust my abilities and expertise in engaging my own community when others ask me how they can outreach to the Hmong and Southeast Asian communities.
It is important also to recognize that the stakes for failure as a women of color are much more dire. Many of us serve as the backbone for our families--the ones whom our parents rely on, the mentor for our siblings, the caretakers for the children, and many times the breadwinner. The risk of failure has dire consequences because when we fail--we also risk the infrastructure for those who depend on us. Thus, I also make it a point to shout out women of color who commit small acts of bravery and take risks despite the challenges they face.
So this International Women’s Day, I proudly and boldly shout from the top of my lungs that we will smash patriarchy by uplifting one another; by celebrating #BlackExcellence #LatinaPower and #NotYourAAPISidekick; by pushing safe spaces into braves spaces and committing to make small acts of bravery in our everyday lives.
OUR TIME IS NOW.