Diverse women unite at forum

by Margaret Bell

When Claire Johnson moved to Seattle from Asia in the 1970s, her school didn’t have an English as a second language program and she was put in the back of the room with other “slow learners.”
Johnson, along with more than 250 other Asian-American women, converged Friday on the Hubert H. Humphrey Center for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. The three-day event was intended to unite Asian-American women of all generations and ethnicities to solve problems that face Asian-Americans.
“Lots has to be done on the part of the United States to remove obstacles in the way of Asians succeeding and becoming someone in life,” said Johnson, who is now a writer and actress in Seattle.
The summit included dancing, speakers and poetry reading, and it concluded Sunday at the Wilder Retreat Center on the St. Croix River in Marine, Minn.
The purpose of the forum was to address issues such as civil rights, economic justice, educational access, health and violence against women — “issues that we really care about,” said conference attendee Ashly Nguyen. “We want to educate Asian women that they don’t have to marry at age 14,” she added.
The forum included many generations of women from Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Guamian, Indonesian, Korean, Philippino, Mao and Hmong dissent.
“People think that we are very homogeneous,” said Masami Suga, Humphrey Institute postdoctoral student. “We are not homogeneous. Within us, we have very diverse individuals.”
Most of the women at the forum are single, professional women, Suga said. There are attorneys, teachers, writers, women who work for the state department, civil rights activists and mothers.
The oldest member is Esther Suzuki, 73, a former civil rights activist. The youngest member is 3.
Although the Twin Cities chapter began in fall 1997, it already has more than 200 members.
“The momentum is remarkable,” said Suga. “We are very capable women, vocal women, as well. This goes against the myth of Asian women.”
The national forum began in 1996 in Los Angeles when women fresh from the International Women’s Conference in Beijing wanted to carry on the momentum of that conference.
“We are trying to show the difference in generations and diversity that exists within the Asian-American community, including ethnic and cultural diversity,” Suga said.