Dear Ai-Jen Poo,
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and I’m dedicating this letter to you – and all the domestic workers caring for our families and others every day.
Like me, you first dipped your feet in organizing while you were a student. While attending Columbia in the late 90s, you organized with CAAAV, an organization serving Asian and Asian American communities in New York.
As many good organizers know, our job is building relationships and trust. While at CAAAV, you reached out to immigrant women service workers and noticed domestic workers kept showing up. You said, “We were just starting to see the abuses facing domestic workers. And once you started to see it, you couldn’t not see it.”
Poo’s maternal grandmother with her home-care worker
You and I both see the personal as political. You could not allow the exploitation of domestic workers, who are our mothers, sisters and aunties, continue. The injustice gripped you so hard that you spent hours every week walking between commuter railway stops, the kid’s section of bookstores, and playgrounds speaking to domestic workers, sharing about your lives, and building a collective.
You knew and valued the power of our communities. It could have been so easy to walk away, to “move on” with your life and climb the socioeconomic ladder that society affords to women like us – second generation, native English speakers, with college educations.
But you and I are committed to the struggle. You have shown me to be unapologetic about my convictions and to expect that I will achieve what I have set out to do. For the last two decades you have relentlessly pushed for the rights of domestic workers and have won time and time again.
Your leadership showed us that domestic work deserves dignity and our mothers, aunties and sisters can demand respect as care workers.
We don’t even think of [domestic work] as real work, and I think a lot of that has to do with its association with women. And a lot of the strength that is required to do care work has been totally … minimized and invisibilized” - Ai-Jen Poo
As an Asian American woman, I often think about how the women in family has shaped who I am today. I grew up with my po-po, maternal grandmother. My family took care of her as she cared for us. She taught me that women are strong as hell.
You’ve spoken at length at how care work is feminized and unvalued, but it is essential to our lives. I see how this is also reflected in my work in community organizing. When the work is rooted in building relationships and trust, we ignore how hard people, and specifically Asian American women, Black women and other women of color, work so that we live in a world where we feel safe.
The value of organizing is dismissed because it threatens the status quo. Your work has always centered women at the margins. Institutions are scared that they will lose their power because women might finally get the support and credit they deserve.
Your new organization, Supermajority, co-led with Alicia Garza and Cecile Richards, will leave the patriarchy quaking in its boots. Its mission of training and organizing at least 2 million women ahead of the 2020 elections will force the political establishment to pay attention to our communities. I can’t wait for you to get it started!
This is all to say, thank you Ai-Jen. Thank you for leading the charge for a world where our work is fairly compensated. Thank you for being uncompromising in your convictions and proud of your identity. You give me hope I can do the same.
– Laura Li, 18MillionRising.org
This Love Letters to Movement Leaders series is a part of a collection of love letters that will be released throughout 2018.