Asha Dahya 00;00;13;12
Welcome friends. Thank you for tuning in to another episode of the Repro Film Podcast as part of the Repo Periodical Newsletter, where each month we share a short film and conversation centered around a theme. May is Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and given that the majority of our film team are part of the AAPI community, myself included, we fully realize the importance and timeliness of looking at the way we approach and help justice impacts AAPI Folks.
This month, we’re featuring the stunning short film Cold Wall and a short interview with writer and director Lilly Hu, who is originally from China. Cold Wall was her award winning IFC thesis film, which is about a young Chinese high school student experiencing an unplanned pregnancy while studying abroad alone in Los Angeles. Cold Wall follows Bei Bei a.k.a Katie as she negotiates her own unwanted pregnancy in an American culture that she doesn’t fully understand.
In the second half of this episode, I’ll be speaking with Seri Lee, the national campaign and membership director for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, also referred to in our interview by its acronym NAPAWF, Seri and I talk about the scary time we are living in, staring down the barrel of Roe v Wade being overturned. What reproductive justice is and why it is important for the AAPI community and what we as everyday people can do, even in small ways to ensure abortion access reproductive health and human rights is a reality we can all work toward.
It is a time filled with uncertainty right now. But as Seri quotes, black American abolitionist Mariam Kabir in our interview, “Having hope is a discipline.” I love that quote so much and we will not give up. So I hope you enjoy this conversation.
Asha Dahya 00;02;17;29
Lilly Hu, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s great to be speaking with you.
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;02;22;03
Hello, nice to speak with you, too.
Asha Dahya 00;02;24;27
Well, I know we’re in different time zones and everything feels very global and far apart, but also very connected with Zoom, which is how we’re recording this podcast interview. So thank you. I know it’s early morning for you. It’s late evening for me. I appreciate your time greatly. So I first want to talk about the story behind Cold Wall. Hopefully all our listeners have had a chance to watch it. If not, the link will be in the show notes. But tell me first how the story came about. How did the whole idea come about?
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;02;56;14
So it’s my AFI thesis, so we kind of have to submit our story before we start the whole thesis production which is like the whole second year of our school. I’ve always wanted to make a story about a young girl having to get abortion, but my story was set in China before. It’s like it’s from it’s based on some personal experience and a lot of like my friend’s experience at, for example, the girl with the pink hair in Cold Wall was inspired by a girl that’s in my middle school who is like a year below me.
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;03;39;17
I was, I think I was 14 years old and she should be like 13 or 14. And she experienced like her experience was shown like exactly the same in Cold Wall. So that was terrifying in a middle school in China. So that left like a huge impression on me. So I was like, I have to, I have to make something about this. And I just think I just it’s just such a shame for young girls to get pregnant in China. Like China situation is a little different than America. But yeah, it’s just has to do with the woman’s mind and her body. So, yeah, that’s how I came to this story. I just wanted to say something about what one young woman has to go through.
Asha Dahya 00;04;39;11
Yeah. I definitely want to get into your upbringing in China talking about the reproductive access and the culture there. And, you know, we’ll talk about America as well. But just for listeners who aren’t familiar, can you explain what Africa is and and what you did there?
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;04;54;17
AFI. It’s American Film Institute. And so I finished my grad MFA degree there just got it like last year in directing. So we have six disciplines: directing, cinematography, producing, editing, screenwriting and production design. In the first year we do cycles. We do three cycles together with different team members but you know, directing fellow only directs. So I think that’s what’s good about it. And the second year will form a whole team to do a thesis film together. In the whole year. So yeah, my team and I did Cold Wall together also and then we graduated.
Asha Dahya 00;05;40;04
I mean, what a way to graduate. Having this amazing film to show the world then as well, and to start your directing career in this way. I want to talk about how the film deals with themes of shaming and the silence or secret secrecy that so often accompanies decisions around pregnancy, especially for young women. Like you would just describing both in China as well as here in the US. Why was it important for you to show these themes through a protagonist, a main character who was also struggling that straddling the different cultural barriers?
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;06;16;04
Yeah. So I think in China it’s mostly because pregnancy is always connected with sex. Sex is always a shameful thing in China, in Chinese culture, especially, if you’re underage, like a like underage girl, you’re not adult. So like young people are having sex and make mistakes. The girl gets pregnant and it’s the girl who gets all the shame, right?
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;06;49;17
And all the like physical pain. So it’s like that for this Chinese young girl. So in China is very weird. It’s like if Katie was in China, then the problem she will get is her parents will her family will probably like you can’t tell anyone about this. And don’t ever don’t even think about having this kid. This is just aborted because everyone will think you’re poor. Basically, that’s what’s going to happen in China. But I know it’s very different in America because of the policy and culture. So we all have our own difficulties and about the cultural thing is, well, if I see this has to shoot in Los Angeles. So I I just think I I’d have to adapt this story to like American background.
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;07;46;15
I came to America like when I went to AFI so that’s the first time I went to the States. And well, as an Asian woman, it’s just it’s, it’s difficult for us than those native speakers was just basically something I experienced when I lived in L.A. and when I was in AFI. It’s you feel lonely among different people, but it’s not anyone’s fault.
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;08;24;07
It’s just a natural feeling you will have and yeah, it’s amazing how languages that it does to people. It’s like especially for like an introvert girl like Katie, it’s very hard for her to blend in those people who can just talk very freely with each other. And she it takes her a long time to put up words, put together words to communicate with others. And she really doesn’t like like, it’s it almost feels like people are wasting time on her. So, yeah, it’s difficult but it gets I think it gets better when you get older. You you kind of you realize that difference you have with people and you accept it and you just and, you know, like you have to do things to get better. So but it’s very difficult for a 15 year old girl.
Asha Dahya 00;09;28;29
Yeah, absolutely. And especially studying abroad as a teenager you could you could see that was very harmful. Katie in the film you know trying to fit in with friends and and also go through her own unexpected pregnancy experience. Although you made a short film, you know I was watching until the end but it ended and I just wanted to see more. I’m like, hang on a second, there should be more. I want to see the rest of this film. So I guess especially given what’s happening in the US with abortion access right now and also what’s happening with China, you know, with the change in the, the two child policy and, you know, different policies around maternity leave, it feels like it’s such a good topic to explore through film. So will there be a Cold Wall feature film at some stage?
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;10;13;21
Yeah, I have a few feature projects at hand that I’m developing, but I haven’t really thought about because I just yeah, I’m just trying to focus on making Chinese stories at this point. And if Cold Wall is going to be a feature, it’s probably going to be a Chinese story. Not going to be America. Probably so. But yeah, I, I, when the Supreme Court thing happened, I was yeah, I mean, like, all the woman should be, like, really upset because well, it’s absurd. I was talking about this with a lot of people around me, and, well, I just know so many woman have to go through dangerous abortions, illegal abortions. To just try to have a normal life is just so out there, like, man just are so free. And it’s the same thing. China, like the third child policy, you know.
Asha Dahya 00;11;22;28
It’s the third child?
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;11;23;29
Have three children right. But my friends are like the same age as me, 26, 27, or a little bit over 30. They’re just like they have no I have no intention of having children because it’s just so bad my friends get pregnant and then she’s fired immediately. I just think I always say this when like if they’re not making tampons free, then we just have no responsibility to do anything. It’s like we have this every month, but we still have to pay a lot for it.
Asha Dahya 00;12;04;20
Yeah, a luxury tax, they’re often taxed as luxury goods. It’s like it’s not a luxury to menstruate. It’s painful. It’s, you know, it can be a nuisance. It interferes with our everyday life. And it’s just you’re right. I mean, these things are connected to so many issues like maternity leave, menstruation, health, and, you know, if there’s no protections for there’s just no attack on men’s bodily freedom in any way, there’s no laws telling them what they can and can’t do.
And it’s the complete opposite for women. And I’m sure, you know, being from China, seeing the evolution of going from the one child policy and the impact on so many women and families and now having it change to the third child policy and the the you know, the real push to for women to have more babies and take maternity leave, it’s it’s an idea of the government. I mean, similar to what’s happening here, the government is trying to control what you can and can’t do, how you plan your family who you have sex with, what kind of relationship you’re in. And it just that there’s no freedom in that at all. And it’s it’s it’s different in China, but it’s the same you know, there’s different sides of the same coin.
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;13;16;14
Yeah. Because we just have like different situations in two countries. But it’s like the problems are the same.
Asha Dahya 00;13;24;21
We don’t always find the words to share our stories. But art, poetry, filmmaking is a great way to talk about difficult subjects like miscarriage or abortion. And Mae is an Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And we wanted to highlight as many Asian-American and Pacific Islander creatives and organizations and content as much as possible, especially related to reproductive rights and abortion access. So I’d love to hear from you. You know, what does it mean to be a filmmaker from China talking about abortion and, you know, making this film in America and and seeing everything that’s going on with abortion? What does it mean to you as a filmmaker to be able to talk about this through your films?
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;14;13;10
Well, I definitely I’m very lucky to be able to do that because a lot of people just can do that. I always just really want to tell Chinese stories, even though I really I didn’t really achieve that in Jesus. I’m going to that’s my goal now, like feature films because, well, you know, the Chinese situation, you know, like this and the censorship exists. But I just feel we have so many people and like the interesting stories, interesting people I met are always Chinese. I mean, because I lived there longest. And I just feel there’s so much to show and there’s so, so much like misunderstanding we’re like just not knowing. And I feel, yeah, it’s because of my experience background is that’s what I want to do.
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;15;23;26
It’s kind of a responsibility thing if I don’t try to do it, who else and I’m basically I only do write films as a female. Leading the lead is always a woman. I just think being a woman is very hard. You do you have to do so much more than a man to just be kind of to kind of have an equal race with them. So yeah, that’s my goal. As a filmmaker, just to do like woman Chinese woman movies.
Asha Dahya 00;16;07;26
For those people and audiences and repro listeners who are going to be watching it for the first time, what do you want them to think about after watching Cold Wall?
Lily Hu (Cold Wall) 00;16;17;24
Well, I’m sure they’ll feel very depressed after watching my show, and that’s kind of my intention when I was making it. So I think out of this depression, I hope they could just reflect on people around us who are really going through a difficult time. Maybe it’s not that obvious. Maybe just be a little nicer to people. I really want them to realize it’s not that fun for a woman to get pregnant when she doesn’t really want to.
Asha Dahya 00;16;55;04
Well, we’re going to put the link to Cold Wall in a show notes and people can get it in the report periodical in your email inbox. Lilly Hu, thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Asha Dahya 00;17;07;15
Thank you welcome to the podcast, Seri. It’s great to be speaking with you today. And before we dove into our conversation, can you tell me a little bit about NAPAWF and what you do there?
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;17;32;24
Yeah. So NAPAWF stands for the National Asian-Pacific American Women’s Forum. We are the leading Multi-issue National Community Organizing and policy advocacy organization that builds power with Asian-American and Pacific Islander women and girls. And so that’s a lot so let me break it down. We built power with Asian-American Pacific Islander women and girls. So what that means is that we, you know, advocate for Ally is for a families, for a community so that we all can exercise agency.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;18;05;01
And we do this using what we call a reproductive justice framework, working on specifically a three issue area. So that includes reproductive rights in the House, immigrant rights and racial justice. And then finally, economic justice we are a national organization. So we have, you know, our we have offices based in D.C., Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and then opening new offices in Tampa and Houston, which is really exciting.
Asha Dahya 00;18;34;06
Oh, great. Yeah.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;18;35;11
Then we also have eight chapters across the country as well as six more than 600 members nationwide. To talk a little bit about what I do at Knock Off, I serve as the national campaign and membership director. So I oversee our national organizing programs specifically. That includes overseeing our field programs and Florida and Texas as well as a few other states, and then our national campaigns and membership program across the country. So I oversee a lot of work from the bird’s eye view, as well as getting information of what’s happening on the ground. And so that can be kind of exciting position to be in knowing what’s happening on the ground and being able to connect that with, you know, what’s happening in Houston, what’s with what’s happening in Tampa, what’s happening in Minnesota with what’s happening in New York. So it’s really exciting to be able to see all these different connections.
Asha Dahya 00;19;36;14
Yeah, I’m sure. And I’m sure you’re very busy. Busier than ever right now given what’s happening on the ground, which we’ll get into in a moment. And I believe you guys are the only AAPI focused Pro-justice organization in the country, is that correct?
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;19;50;25
Yes, on the national level.
Asha Dahya 00;19;52;14
National level, right. So, yeah, it’s it’s a real honor to be speaking with you today, especially as May is Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We’ve been centering our report, periodical content around this theme and want to talk with you about this. So why is reproductive justice and freedom and specifically abortion access, which is, you know, the topic that we’re really focused on right now, why is this important to your organization? And the AAPI community?
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;20;20;25
For sure. So I’ll start off with just giving a little bit of history about reproductive justice, which I love to talk about.
Asha Dahya 00;20;27;22
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;20;29;06
So in 1994, a group of black women who named themselves Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, there are actually a group of, you know, black women in Chicago, which is something that I really love talking about being that I’m from Chicago, but there’s a group of black women coined the term reproductive justice in recognition of the ways in which the mainstream reproductive rights movement did not represent women of color. It’s lived experiences and needs. So you know, there’s reproductive health, which is oftentimes, you know, thinking about providing direct service for how people can access reproductive health care, including access to abortion, access to contraception, all of that. There is reproductive rights, which is focused on, you know, legal and policy advocacy. And most of the time is the realm of, you know, what we’re thinking about what the ACLU and, you know, lawyers, policymakers, elected officials, decision makers in that capacity.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;21;31;03
And in this case, what we’re talking about is reproductive justice, which is a movement that centers the most marginalized. And I think what’s really important when we talk about reproductive justice is that it uses a human rights framework. So oftentimes when we talk about reproductive rights, we use a legal frame where we talk about the legal right to abortion. But reproductive justice goes further than that. You know, Roe v Wade has been the law of the land for the past four, nine years since 1973. And even with the legal right to abortion, there hasn’t actually meant that, you know, everyone could access abortion for many different reasons. And I think that’s, you know, the big conversation that we’ll be having today is all the ways in which even with Roe, people have not been able to access abortion care and other reproductive health care and other ways that they need or other resources that they need in order for them to, you know, thrive in safe and sustainable communities.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;22;30;10
The reproductive justice framework is really rooted in three main principles. It is an individual’s human right to one, have a child and decide the conditions under which they give birth to to not have a child, including access to all options for ending or prevent teen pregnancy while being treated with dignity. And then third parent the children they have and safe, supportive communities free from violence and oppression. There’s one more angle to reproductive justice, which is to just make sure that all individuals can be able to assert bodily autonomy. And so what does reproductive justice mean for Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities? And so we believe that reproductive justice for women and girls will be achieved when we have the economic, social and political power to make decisions about our own bodies, families and communities.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;23;26;23
And so using our reproductive justice framework helps us to recognize the intersecting identities of HIV women and girls, which includes ethnicity, immigration, status, education, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, and then disability. Our ability when addressing our social economic and help to needs. And so there’s a few different examples, you know, for the for us to think about what reproductive justice looks like or apex be.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;23;58;02
So one example might be you have a Burmese woman who makes $0.50 to every dollar a white man makes who has a sick child in her workplace. Does not provide paid family leave. That is a reproductive justice issue. Another example is you might have a woman who earns low wages who needs access to Medicaid to pay for her birth control. But due to her immigration status, she has to wait five years for affordable contraception. That’s a reproductive justice issue. And then the last example we might want to think about is we have a young age person who’s growing up in a culture where sexual and reproductive health is a taboo topic, but they need comprehensive sex education in their school, not the shaming and oppressive abstinence based programs that they receive in health class.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;24;49;03
That is also our reproductive justice issue. And so really anything can be framed as a reproductive justice issue beyond abortion, beyond reproductive rights and health, beyond, you know, thinking about making sure that our families stay together, making sure that we have, you know, livable wages and that we can thrive and provide for our families and provide for ourselves, making sure that, you know, we live and safe and sustainable communities.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;25;16;29
And that’s really what reproductive justice is about, is making sure that we have access to all the resources that we need in order for us to make critical decisions about our lives, our families and communities, as well as to just be able to live and thrive in safe and sustainable communities.
Asha Dahya 00;25;35;21
I mean, you think that would be a no brainer for every human being, but sadly, it is not. And thank you for concisely breaking that, breaking the difference down between the rights, the justice and the health care frameworks. That’s super, super important, especially with this conversation. And, you know, the larger conversations we’re having around access to reproductive health right now in America.
Asha Dahya 00;26;00;10
And I love that last example that you use because out this month, we featured a short film called Cold Wall by Lilly Hu, which told the story of an immigrant Chinese student in an American high school who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and has to navigate that situation, as well as the multiple cultural barriers she personally straddles. It’s a compelling and beautifully shot film and so nuanced and, you know, those intersections are there that you just mentioned before, Seri So from an organizational standpoint, how can films and media be a powerful way to have conversations about the intersection of culture and abortion access and reproductive justice in America right now?
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;26;40;29
Yeah, I love this question so much that’s making me cheer up a little but I just think that, you know, media shapes our understanding of reality and in fact, in so many different ways, like representation is so powerful and particularly in Asia communities, sexual and reproductive health is very stigmatized. It’s a taboo topic to talk about. And the reason why I’m tearing up a little bit, just thinking about how to answer your question is, you know, I’m thinking about my own experiences growing up.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;27;14;07
So my I so I grew up in a working class mixed as Korean household. And, you know, my parents have always had politicized conversations with me from the get go, like the first thing I distinctly remember from elementary school is my parents talking to me about Japanese occupation in Korea.
Asha Dahya 00;27;33;22
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;27;34;29
And talking about for example, like comfort the comfort women issue. And so, like, I’ve always had these politicized conversations with my parents, but, you know, growing up you know, they were still pretty conservative. Like, I remember in middle school, I would have conversations like start to broach the conversation of abortion and LGBT rights with my dad. And because we were talking about in school, I just wanted to see like, oh, like how does he stand on these things?
Asha Dahya 00;28;01;22
What do you think?
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;28;02;18
Right. And he just, you know, was anti-abortion. And like anti LGBTQ rights. And that just like really created a rift in our relationship because, you know, I was just pro-human rights, you know, like these things are basic human rights that, you know, everyone should be able to live with dignity and in safety. And so that was, what, like 15 years ago. And like, you know, during middle school and high school, my relationship with my parents was pretty rocky, not just on cross, but just in our personal lives, too. So thinking about, you know, this, you know about the short film like Cold War, like, I can like in my head, I can, like, perfect. Imagine like what that looks like, you know, just having to navigate that situation and, you know, not knowing, you know, like where your parents stand and of course, just all the those cultural barriers and the stigma that, you know, you’re encountering as your navigating, navigating this really, really hard situation.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;29;03;24
But I think that’s where media is so powerful because it opens up conversations and helps us to see a world, the world in a different way. And so back to my own story, like thinking about like from 15 years ago and middle school to now, I’ve seen just a world of difference in terms of like where my parents stand now on these issues and even around organizing. And I think those that change in their mindset really came because of representation and, you know, abortion like being out there openly and the discourse. And so with my dad, for example, 15 years ago, who is anti-abortion, but now, you know, through the work that he’s seen me do, he’s really seeing my work as a force of positive change. And now he sees me kind of as an expert so.
Asha Dahya 00;29;54;12
That’s great. Yeah, that was going to be my next question. What does he think now of the work that you do?
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;29;58;27
Right. Yeah. So he really like now he like openly identifies as a feminist which is really great. He regularly talks about like different politicians, like he’ll be like, like, isn’t Elizabeth Warren great? How do you feel about Elizabeth Warren?
Asha Dahya 00;30;16;26
I love your dad.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;30;18;15
Let’s talk about it. And then like even most recently with the week of the dogs, you know, majority opinion, you know, I talked about that with my dad and he was like, oh, yeah, that’s horrific. Like, you know, people should be able to access abortions. Like, that’s just a no brainer. And in the back of my mind was like, you’re not thinking about that 13 years ago, right? No, no hard feelings now. And I think, you know, really what’s helped him to change his mindset is, again, seeing representation so, you know, people talk about abortion, about sex, about reproductive health care in, you know, ways that are out in the open but also in ways that are in language and culturally competent, like, you know, are, you know, culturally sensitive and culturally sensitive ways yes. And so particularly in Korea, you know, where, you know, my parents are from, like, of course, there’s still a lot of, you know, like very conservative, like gender justice discourse out there.
Asha Dahya 00;31;27;18
Right. Especially with the recent election.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;31;30;10
Exactly and yet at the same time, what we’re seeing that’s really exciting in terms of the representation front is people and, you know, media is really openly talking about sex, abortion, you know, reproductive health care, reproductive rights in ways that, you know, would be unimaginable like ten, 15 years ago. Now, there is this show called Our Blues. It’s a cage match on Netflix and actually one of the characters, you know, is one of the one of the two characters that the story kind of focuses on are, you know, two teenagers one of which, you know, is pregnant. It’s, you know, talking through like, you know, abortion about teenage pregnancy, about parenthood in ways I would have been unimaginable like ten, 15 years ago. Well, and there’s actually even like outside of those representations, my mom is watching a show right now about teenage mothers and also talks about, you know, parenthood, about, you know, teen pregnancy, about the ways that, you know, Korea and society has failed young people.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;32;45;10
So that’s also really interesting to me, as well as just the ways in which like how powerful represents nation could be and helping us move the needle and push conversations forward. And then so that’s a bit about my dad, but you know, with my mom, that’s actually been more interesting for me to hear about because in some ways she hasn’t been openly like she hasn’t been very open with me about her political views. But I had an inkling that she’s never been like pro abortion. And so like maybe a few years ago and particularly in the past, several months. And so when the news about Senate Bill 8 so SB-8 in Texas, a six week abortion, I went out back and September and I started talking about that with my mom and she actually heard about that in the news, which was really interesting.
Asha Dahya 00;33;39;00
That’s how much of a big deal it is.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;33;40;13
Right. Right. And so when when I first had, you know, talked about this about SB-8 with her, you know, she actually shared with me her abortion story and I have not had an abortion. And so that’s another way that I think representation is so powerful because it really does help us to see the world in a different way. And for us to imagine imagine what the world could be like if we had in places tons and resources where people can be able to, you know, actually make critical decisions about their own lives, families and communities for themselves and also for us to reimagine and to dream of a world in which we can openly talk about these things because we do in our communities.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;34;29;22
But it’s just oftentimes using coded language or talking about it roundabout ways. And so making sure that we have these conversations openly is so important. And I know that’s been the case for myself, but for so many of our members and organizers, it’s not far off. They’ve also had similar experiences to where their work has been a positive change of representation for the people in their community. For them to see like, wow, like this type of work is possible because we’re talking about you know, reproductive justice here, which is something that our communes don’t often openly talk about. But we’re also talking about organize a community organizer that’s something that oftentimes within our communities, we don’t see that as a viable way to make change or even to make, you know, something out of ourselves. And I think that’s also really important that there is a representation we see in media and in film. But then there’s also the representation of just us doing things, of getting out there.
Asha Dahya 00;35;30;00
Yes, you see them.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;35;31;13
Right in real life. And I think that’s also so powerful, too.
Asha Dahya 00;35;35;29
Yeah. I love that story about your family. I mean, what a what a testament to the work you’re doing, but also, like you said, representation and that whole idea of you can’t be what you can’t see, like Marian Wright Edelman so famously said, you know, seeing that person out there and knowing it’s possible for me or this is more common that we think in terms of abortion stories like with your mom and wow, that’s so powerful. Thank you for sharing that. I really love that. I’d love to talk about the most common misconceptions or stigma that AAPI leaders and experts have to fight back against when it comes to anti-abortion policy. I think a lot of our listeners are familiar with, you know, the junk science and, you know, the non-medical basis of a lot of anti-abortion laws. But there really is a specific stigma toward AAPI community folks that I’d love for you to share that we need to be more aware of.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;36;31;21
Yeah, I think the major one is that AAPIs are, you know, passive politically that we’re politically apathetic. So that starts from the model minority in that. But then in addition to that, another layer is that we are conservative and or, you know, like politically apathetic. So we don’t support abortion access, which the data shows us is not true. So seven out of ten Asian-American Pacific Islanders support abortion access and knock off has actually done its own calling for the past two election cycles. And in the 2020 election we actually have polling that shows us that 85% of API women support abortion access.
Asha Dahya 00;37;18;11
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;37;18;26
So we do overwhelmingly support abortion.
Asha Dahya 00;37;22;26
Yes that’s really important to know. And you know, policy makers and organizers should really factor that data in when trying to reach as many people as possible that it has to be intersectional. Otherwise, I guess that’s a whole framework why, you know, adopting a reproductive justice framework is important because it’s not just about the legality, it’s about how do you bring in communities and how do you ensure that holistic human rights is a reality for everyone. So yeah, that’s really important. OK, so the elephant in the room, we mentioned it once or twice but the Dobbs V Jackson Supreme Court case and you know, we’re staring down the barrel of Roe v Wade being overturned first. Can you tell us how Annapolis is being has been preparing for a place where a reality you know, a lot of organizers and organizations I speak to are saying that they’ve been preparing for this for a while. You know, for many years. So I’d love to hear from you how you all have been doing that.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;38;20;13
Yeah, for sure. And I definitely want to echo what they’ve been saying to they, you know, for quite a while, we’ve been anticipating that, you know, this was going to happen. I mean, this has been part of the oppositions playbook for years and years. And years, like abortion access, the hyperlocal local, state and the national level, too. And how that’s interconnected with so many struggles not just related to reproductive rights, but thinking about LGBTQ rights, thinking about voting, yes, that is all part of the same playbook.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;38;57;15
So really, you know, trying to think about how do we prepare for a post-roe reality I think I just want to start off by saying that it’s really scary, at least like definitely for me, I mean I was born in 1988 and so I have always like lived in and I’m from Chicago, so I’ve always lived in a world or you know, around me that you know, you know, with the legal right to abortion and you know, with Roe v Wade, you know, most likely being overturned, you know, sometime in the next month.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;39;36;14
That’s really scary. And so I just want to first off just, you know, validate what listeners might be feeling right now because it is really scary and there’s a lot of uncertainty in the air. And at the same time, now more than ever, it’s so important that, you know, people particularly those folks who haven’t been engaged, engaged in, you know, reproductive justice or rights or health work to really listen to, you know, the folks who are most directly impacted which really means, you know, communities on the ground, but also folks who’ve had abortions and also listen to the folks who’ve been doing work on the ground. So that includes organizers, includes independent provider, independent clinics and providers, and that includes abortion funds as well. At night, we’ve really been engaging in four things. So investing and investing in state based work. So particularly in Georgia, Florida and Texas, to push out pro-abortion messaging through our voter engagement work. And so our Georgia and Florida programs have already begun with doing voter engagement work.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;40;47;07
Right now and during the month of May, what they’re doing is actually survey our communities on their phones about what their attitudes toward abortion is so that we can actually integrate, you know, the results of, you know, where people stand on the issue of abortion. To our duty or get out the vote scripts. And so that’s really exciting work that’s happening right now. We’ll be actually doing the same in Texas beyond that, like engaging in both defensive and proactive work. And so on the defensive side, our Florida chapter has said you know, actively fighting back against the 15 week abortion ban that unfortunately passed, you know, a few months ago or actually a month ago but will be enacted on July 1st. And while, you know, we weren’t able to win that fight, I think the fact that we were able to bring in so many people and to mobilize and organize some is really important.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;41;47;17
And, you know, that just helps us to build power so that we can incrementally create the landscape that we need to have in order for us to move a more progressive agenda in that state. And so it’s really like, you know, we lost the fight and also there’s some wins that we can identify and how we’ve pushed the needle forward and how we can learn from what the work that we’ve done so that, you know, in the future, in the near future, that we can actually build a more progressive forward where, you know, we actually do, you know, care for reproductive freedom and can be able to see that in policy as well in the proactive work. You know, really a lot of also really exciting work happening there. So our New York chapter has been co-leading a campaign with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. So their New York branch, they’re as well as other reproductive rights groups. But to the right now, they’ve actually, you know, in the past month have been able to pass a reproductive and equity act, which essentially, you know, would be able to allow private insurance coverage in the state of New York to cover abortion care.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;43;04;26
And so that’s really exciting. There’s a lot of really exciting wins recently in the past few years that are new York chapter has helped us to win as well. So that includes, you know, actually on the city level to pass a resolution to ban any type of, you know, discriminatory discriminatory practices in banning abortions. And so for AAPI communities in particular, that includes sex selective abortion ban. So, you know, banning abortions on the basis of, you know, of sex. And that’s something that is really connected to stereotypes about our communities that aren’t necessarily true. And so that is actually something that they were able to win recently in the past few years on the city level for, you know, you know, thinking about outside of the work, we also want to make sure that we’re really strengthening our partnerships.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;44;02;19
And so that’s partnering. That looks like partnering with abortion of funds and providers. And so, for example, in Florida, we’ve been working where for a chapter is based out of Tampa. And so we’ve been working with the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund to think about, you know, for the clients, you know, who speak English as a second language or maybe speaking limited English and their API, like how can we make sure that they access, you know, the fund and be able to get abortion care? And also in Texas, what’s really exciting, something that our chapter has been doing led by a member is is actually translating resources so that Texans can be able to access information about abortion care and doing that in six different Asian languages. Well, and so that’s something that we’re still we’re wrapping up right now. We’re almost done with the translation of the resource guide. And that will be something that we disseminate with our partners, including abortion firms and providers, as well as other AAPI organizing issues as well.
Asha Dahya 00;45;12;07
Yeah, that’s great. Well, let us know how we can also help disseminate that and share and spread the word. We would love to share links to that. This amazing work that you’re doing. You’re also busy and clearly the time is now for all this work. So thank you for all that and also for explaining how a lot of these you know, the way the anti-abortion bills can be particularly racist toward the AAPI community, you know, in terms of the sex selective excuse that they use. So that’s really important to for listeners to be aware of and, and to know when you hear that those narratives being talked about and while it feels like a very devastating moment we are living in and like you said, it is it that there is it’s there’s a lot of uncertainty. We want to give listeners some sort of hope in various actionable ways or positive news that we can share on the repro front? Can you tell us about some of the most prominent AAPI political leaders that you’ve been working with or aligning with to champion specifically abortion access for reproductive justice access as a whole? Like who has been the most powerful voice in Congress that you can point to?
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;46;18;28
Yeah, so first off, I want to shout out Representative Pramila Jayapal. Yes, yes. So we’ve worked with her and her office on numerous fronts, but especially around health care, access and immigrant justice. And she’s a champion for one of the bills that we’re helping me on the national level, which is called Heal the Health Equity and Access under the Law Act. So just to give a little bit of context, so we I’ve talked about this a little bit before, but Roe has always been the floor. So we have a legal right to abortion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people have access to abortion. And so the path to abortion is particularly arduous for the HIV communities for a number of reasons, but mainly that it’s filled with language barriers, cultural stigmas, and the low rates of insurance coverage for our most vulnerable members.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;47;13;20
And so for thinking about the AAPI community, Asian-Americans are overrepresented in frontline and low wage jobs. So it makes them it makes it difficult or impossible to get time off of work and money for transportation and overnight accommodations to travel for an abortion. And that’s going to be exponentially the case with the jobs decision. You know, people will need to travel like a thousand times 2000 times the amount of distance that they would have had to travel under Roe. And for states like Texas, they have to travel up four, 500 miles to find the nurse clinic crazy. And so for Asian-Americans, particularly, you know, so many who work in frontline, frontline and low wage jobs, that’s just going to be an enormous struggle. Six and ten Asian-Americans are immigrants and 16% are undocumented. And so the criminalization of abortion heightens fears of adverse immigration consequences for undocumented individuals.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;48;18;19
Refugee and other immigrants, regardless of their immigrant status. And then 66% of Asian-Americans and 30% of native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders speak a language other than English at home. And so that means that they experience difficulties for accessing health care due to language barriers related to that first point, again, that’s I would say, you know, Asian-Americans face economic hurdles and immigration barriers as well as, you know, the centuries old cultural stigmas that discourage conversations about reproductive health. And so, you know, where there’s all kind of you know, I’m I’m going somewhere with this.
Asha Dahya 00;49;01;06
I know that’s all good info. All good info.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;49;05;11
Where this kind of coalesces is that it’s the understanding that Roe has always been the floor. And so for low income individuals and immigrants to access abortion care, you know, we need Roe, but then we also need a few other policy, such policy solutions. And so first we need to each act which stands for equal access for abortion coverage. And this would remove the Hyde Amendment and related abortion restrictions and allow federal health care programs, including Medicaid, to cover abortion care. And then in addition to each, we would also need the HEAL Act, which Representative Paul is championed championing, and the HEAL Act. Health equity and access under the law would allow immigrants to access to federal health care programs.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;49;56;25
And so back when I was talking about reproductive justice, you gave examples of creating women, the Korean immigrant women. You know, she’s not able to access, you know, contraception or abortion care because of her immigration status. She has to wait five years after getting her green card. And so the five here are the five year waiting period is an enormous barrier for immigrants and their families to access health care and in particular, reproductive health care. The HEAL Act removes that five year bar as well as open up access to the ACA marketplace for undocumented right so that’s something that Representative Jayapal is leading. And then I also on a shout, our representative Judy Chu, who is leading with us on the Women’s Health Protection Act in the House, which would which would protect abortion rights nationwide. And then finally, I also want to shout out to State Representative and a somebody who represents Orange County. So that’s the window area in Florida. She is the first Iranian-American in the Florida state legislature and she’s also a champion for reproductive justice and has always shown up time and time again for reproductive justice.
Asha Dahya 00;51;16;06
And that’s really great in a state like Florida. I mean, Rep Judy Chu is from my home state, California, and Rep Gianopolous from Washington. But when you see someone in a state like Florida or in Texas, it’s really admirable to see them standing up and creating that pathway forward. So thank you for sharing it about those ladies. I think it’s really, really important. And I love how you said Roe is the floor. And I remember reading an article by Monica Simpson from Sister Song in The New York Times recently, and she said the same thing Roe is the floor, the mountaintop is reproductive justice. And so I think it all brings that back together. Like, this is what we need to aim for. You know, look, at how tenuous Roe has been for years and years and years, and now we really need to find a new path forward. And I think that is through the justice framework. What are some positive actionable steps people can take to champion reproductive justice and abortion access, especially for the AAPI community? And how can listeners get involved and support and pass on the work you’re doing?
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;52;16;10
Yeah, great question. So I want to start off by saying again, like validating how people might be feeling this moment that there’s a lot of despair and, you know, anger, age and sadness and confusion that we’re all holding. And I think that’s important to acknowledge. And also, I always think about this quote from the black abolitionist organizer Miriam Kaba, who says that we have to practice folk as a discipline, and it’s a muscle that we need to strengthen every day. And the reason why I love that quote so much is particularly when we hear about dogs, when we hear about the leak and, you know, just everything that’s going on in the world right now.
Asha Dahya 00;53;02;01
Oklahoma bill and just one after the other.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;53;05;08
Yeah. Like there’s just so much going on in the world that it’s really easy for us to fall into despair and to lose hope. But the thing that, you know, is really hard and actually the thing that we need to do is to find hope in every single thing, to be able to find the joy and find compassion in people and that being a basis in which we can then build hope. Because I think that hope it can be such a powerful thing and so I would I just want to start off with that beautiful quote.
Asha Dahya 00;53;37;01
I appreciate that. Yeah.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;53;39;23
I like to say that the first thing particularly for any students who are Asian American, Pacific Islander to sign up for abortion access solidarity statement, which they can do and knock off their work slash abortion solidarity. And I’m sure that like yours, your team will drop that link.
Asha Dahya 00;53;59;04
Yes, we will share the link. Absolutely.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;54;02;11
But yeah, we would really love for, you know, folks to sign our solidarity statement. And we’re having our partners on the national and local level and state level to also sign as well, because we really want to show that again, we have a stocks to show that seven and eight Asian-Americans and then also. 85% of women support abortion access. We have the data, but we also want to send a message that, you know, there are thousands and thousands of AAPIs support abortion access and who opposed, you know, whatever decision that comes out with jobs. And we’re going to mobilize and we’re going to organize our communities to take action. So we want to show our power that, you know, all these people we support abortion access and so that I would say first step. And then from there, what nonprofits also do is we’re soon going to be releasing a toolkit that will have messaging, guidance, social media assets, resources on mobilize organizing tactics, as well as how to talk about abortion in your communities. Very exciting.
Asha Dahya 00;55;11;07
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;55;13;00
Calls to action, which looks like, you know, what our chapters across across the country and our members are going to take action and so that toolkit will probably be on the same side, not support slash abortion, solidarity or have, you know, that range of resources and calls to action so that people can really easily get plugged in. So I would say like in less than a month, like be on the lookout for that because we’ll update that soon.
Asha Dahya 00;55;44;00
And you have a newsletter that people can sign up to on the website to get all the updates about everything you’re doing as well, correct?
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;55;49;29
Yes. Yes. And then the last thing is for folks to become members of app, which they can do a not or such membership. And the reason why I say this is that more like now more than ever, we really need to organize our activities. We really see opposed a post-roe world as a long term strategy that, you know, there is going to be so much activity that’s going to happen after the decision comes out and and then in the next month and two months. So during the summer, there’s so much that’s going to happen that people may feel very overwhelmed. And also we need to be able to get this focus and discipline and preserver energy and the way that we can do that is to start having these conversations about reproductive justice in our family and the way the number one way that I would really, you know, have folks be able to start doing that is by meeting people where they’re at.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;56;53;29
So that might be using, you know, Cold Wall as a starting point. That might be, you know, trying to understand where their values lie. And I think particularly and having conversations about abortion and just reproductive health care in general, it’s really important that we make it rooted in shared values that, for example, my parents may not have been pro-abortion ten, 15 years ago, but we have a shared value of we want to be able to, you know, raise our families and safe and sustainable communities. And the way that we need to do that is by making sure that people have the ability to make decisions over their lives because we ultimately know what’s best for ourselves. And so, you know, there’s so much stigma attached to abortion and there’s so many different ways we talk about abortion in our community using coded language. So it’s really important that, you know, beyond abortion, beyond reproductive health rights, justice, that at the end of the day, we rooted in shared values.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;58;06;15
And then the actual stories that we pull there’s something that, you know, in a lot of spaces we talk about is we want to really emphasize the fact that everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion. And prior to that conversation in September, they had with my mom, you know, I really just knew of the friends that I loved to have had abortions. But I didn’t realize that someone so close to me, my mom had an abortion, too. And I think that’s really I think about that. We all love someone who’s had an abortion. And at the end of the day, you know, no matter what their situation is like, if we had a loved one who needed to get care, we would do everything in our power to make sure that they would get care.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 00;58;51;27
And so I think that’s something that’s so important and that’s one way that we can start pushing the needle forward again. Like this is a long term, long term vision that we have towards reproductive justice in a way for us to incrementally build power and to create a world that actually has reproductive justice, where we achieve reproductive justice in order for us to get there we need to practice as a discipline, and we also need to organize our communities.
Asha Dahya 00;59;23;15
I love that. I could just listen to you talk all day because it just gives me hope and I’m like inspired to go and do these things. So yes, like Marianne Cobb, said “practice hope as a discipline” and shout out to Rene Bracy Sherman from WeTestify who coined the term “Everybody Loves Someone Who’s Had An Abortion.” And I think that’s just it just really brings it back home to, you know, what the discourse should really be about. It should be rooted in love and compassion and an idea of shared values that you said. I think that’s so crucial because that is how we connect with people and find that common ground and then move forward and hopefully move toward a more progressive human rights agenda.
Asha Dahya 01;00;01;06
So thank you so much for sharing all of that. And like we said, we’re going to be sharing all the links all the ways people can get involved and and please keep us posted in the future if there’s any other ways that we can amplify the work of Knapp Hall. And, you know, leading up to the jobs decision and the midterms and beyond, there’s so much going on that, you know, people just want maybe even bite sized pieces of action that they can take. And so that’s what the Repro Periodical is all about. We want to equip people with as much as they can take on and take some steps forward. Practice hope as a discipline. I love that.
Seri Lee (NAPAWF) 01;00;39;19
Amazing. Thank you all so much for having me. And I’m really looking forward to how we can continue building power together.
Asha Dahya 01;00;46;18
Well, Seri thank you so much for joining me today. And yeah, I appreciate all the work that you’re doing and keep fighting the good fight.
Asha Dahya 01;00;55
If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure to watch ‘Cold Wall’ by heading to reprofilm.org, sign up for our Periodical if you haven’t already, and join Seri and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum team by heading to www.napawf.org/abortionsolidarity. Sign their solidarity letter, help amplify AAPI voices in the reproductive justice conversation, and find your local NAPAWF chapter for more ways to get involved.
Asha Dahya 01;01;26;00
The Repro Film Podcast is executive produced by mama.film. Hosted and produced by me, Asha Dahya. Edited by Kylie Brown with original music by ParisJane and Marrice Anthony. Our monthly PERIODICAL is programmed by Neha Aziz and written by Emily Christensen. Thank you to all our RePRO Podcast listeners for joining me during AAPI Heritage Month. I look forward to bringing you our next conversation. Bye for now!