“It Is Not One Story”: Trajectories Within Asian American Communities

"Are You My Mother?" a poem by Mila Aguilar

“Are You My Mother?” a poem by Mila Aguilar, republished in the 14th volume of Women’s Studies Quarterly

Southeast Asian activists such as Filipina poet, Mila Aguilar, represent the different socio-political trajectories of activism within the Asian community: “It is not one story, but many, for Asian women are multicultural and multiethnic” (Aguilar 23). Because “Asian American” is a homogenizing term, most assume that the development of Asian American activism was a linear process. However, as Mila Aguilar’s career demonstrates, ethnic groups traversed along different political trajectories. For example, Filipina feminists were hurriedly encouraged into feminist spheres in the fight against the imperialist Marcos dictatorship during the 70s and 80s: “Even within the anti-Marcos movement in the Philippines, sexism, hierarchy, and bureaucracy flourished…  women in the Philippines have a separate struggle and additional concerns that would not be addressed by overthrowing the Marcos dictatorship.” Aguilar’s poem, “Are You My Mother?” derives its power from her anger-fueled mockery of the upper class and Marcos dictatorship. Aguilar encourages women to “fight on” by embracing their inner rage against their shared oppression (25). The raw emotion displayed in Aguilar’s poems defies the objectifying stereotypes forced upon Asian women and employs the emotion-charged rhetoric that women are often shamed for utilizing. 

Like Filipina revolutionary leaders, Vietnamese women were ushered into feminism during the Vietnam War to spotlight human rights crises. The Women of Vietnam conference, which was held in Montreal in 1975, aimed to raise awareness of the effects of the Vietnam War on Vietnamese women. By doing so, Vietnamese American women acquired a foundation for their activism and stood in unity with their native counterparts. Conferences such as these were essential to the development of Asian American activism not only because it functioned to strengthen solidarities among cross-cultural groups, but because other women highlighted inconsistencies within their activism.

A Vietnamese woman performs a traditional sword dance during the Women of Vietnam conference

A Vietnamese woman performs a traditional sword dance during the Women of Vietnam conference, published in the 5th volume of Off Our Backs

When questioned about the futures of Vietnamese protesters who did not want to assume the traditional role of a nurturer, the Vietnamese women deflected the question and answered, “In Vietnam, we have different ideas about that [concrete ways in which children are raised according to gender roles]… we advocate a new image of liberated women… But we recognize biological differences. Women don’t have to do everything men do; such as lifting as much. That way you exploit women because they are biologically weaker than men” (Janover 4). Furthermore, the same women were hesitant to answer questions regarding lesbian fighters within their movement, underlining fixed prejudices that hindered the progress of the women’s movement within Asian American communities.  


Aguilar and Chan. “Teaching about Asian Women’s Activism: The Poetry of Mila Aguilar.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 1 & 2, The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1986, pp. 23–25.

Janover, Madeleine. “Women: Vietnam & u.s.” Off Our Backs, vol. 5, no. 3, 1975, pp. 4–6.