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16 (Twin Cities) Asian American Women You Should Know

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the women in your lives. The official site, International Women’s Day, states that it is the “global holiday celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

We choose to use this space to uplift 16 local Asian American women we think you should know about:

  1. We start off the list with Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay (pictured left). Vongsay is a Lao American writer, playwright, and cultural producer based in Minneapolis. Her work focuses on bringing out the refugee voice and has been recognized by The New York Times, American Theatre Magazine, City Pages, Vita.MN, Pioneer Press, Star Tribune, WCCO, Minnesota Public Radio, KFAI, Candy Fresh, TPT’s TV Takeover and Giving Thanks programs, the U of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center’s Immigrant Stories project, and more. To learn more about her work, click here.
  2. May Lee-Yang an award-winning playwright, poet, prose writer, and performance artist. Her theater-based works have been presented locally at Mu Performing Arts, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT), Intermedia Arts as well as nationally at Out North Theater (Anchorage) and the National Asian American Theater Festivals in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. To learn more about her work, click here
  3. Erika Lee is one of the nation’s leading immigration and Asian American historians. She is the author of the award-winning books At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 and Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America (co-authored with Judy Yung), and The Making of Asian America: A History, recently published to wide acclaim. To learn more about her work, click here.
  4. Samantha Vang currently represents Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, district 40B. She is the first Hmong person to represent the district. She is also one of the youngest members of the Minnesota House and a member of the Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus (MAP – Caucus). She has authored multiple bills including legislation to increase access to the polls. To learn more, click here.
  5. Kaohly Her currently serves the Minnesota House of Representatives for district 64A. She is a mother, wife,  refugee and a member of the Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus (MAP – Caucus). She has authored multiple bills including legislation to increase funding for English Language Learners. To learn more, click here.
  6. Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong-American writer and author of The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Awards in Creative Nonfiction/Memoir and Readers Choice, and a finalist for the PEN USA Award in Creative Nonfiction and the Asian Literary Award in Nonfiction. Her second book, The Song Poet (Metropolitan Books, 2016) won the 2016 Minnesota Book Award in Creative Nonfiction Memoir. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Chautauqua Prize, a PEN USA Award in Nonfiction and the Dayton’s Literary Peace Prize. To learn more, click here.
  7. 신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin was born in Seoul, Korea, during 박 정 희 Park Chung-hee’s military dictatorship, and grew up in the Chicago area. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, author of poetry collections Unbearable Splendor (finalist for the 2017 PEN USA Literary Award for Poetry, winner of the 2016 Minnesota Book Award for poetry); Rough, and Savage; and Skirt Full of Black (winner of the 2007 Asian American Literary Award for poetry), co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, and author of bilingual illustrated book for children Cooper’s Lesson. She lives in Minneapolis where she co-directs the community organization Poetry Asylum with poet Su Hwang. To learn more, click here.
  8. Jennifer Kwon Dobbs is a poet, essayist, and scholar with interests in creative writing, critical adoption studies, Asian American literature, and Korean literary translation. Widely collaborative, Jennifer has partnered with composers, artists, documentary filmmakers, dance choreographers, and virtual reality programmers on a range of interdisciplinary projects that have premiered in Asia, Europe, and North America. In support of her writing and scholarship, she has received grants from the Daesan Foundation, Intermedia Arts, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, Minnesota State Arts Board, among others. To learn more, click here.
  9. Chamindika Wanduragala is a Sri Lankan American visual artist, cook, DJ
    ( DJ Chamun), puppeteer and stop motion animation filmmaker based in Minneapolis. Her work deals with personal experience through mythic stories. She is also the founder and Director of Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop, which supports Native/POC in developing creative and technical skills in contemporary puppetry. To learn more, click here.
  10. Chitra Vairavan is a contemporary Indian dancer and choreographer of Tamil/South Indian-American descent. Vairavan is immersed in both Tamil culture and progressive brown politics in the U.S. She dances to heal and creates dance to help heal others.  Her embodied practice and experimental process is rooted in deep listening, freedoms, poetry, vulnerability and ancestral memory. The aesthetic of her training is through both yoga and contemporary Indian dance forms – mainly a mixture of training in Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Yorchha. To learn more, click here.
  11. Jenny Srey is a mother and wife whose anti-deportation activism work began when her husband was deported to Cambodia after a decades-old conviction made him eligible for deportation. She is currently one of the leads of #ReleaseMN8, a local organization focused on anti-deportation advocacy and activism. She has worked closely with Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC) to develop an Anti-Deportation Guide and has spoken on #FamiliesBelongTogether and #FreedomtoDrive in addition to #ReleaseMN8. To learn more about #ReleaseMN8, click here.
  12. Like Srey, Montha Chum is a mother and wife who began working against deportation when her youngest brother became eligible for deportation. She is currently one of the leads of #ReleaseMN8 and has traveled nationally to speak on anti-deportation work and denouncing deportations of southeast Asian Americans. To learn more, click here.
  13. Naomi Ko is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, cultural producer, and actor. Naomi is a Moth Story SLAM winner and a featured performer for Mortified. She played Sungmi in the 2014 award-winning feature film Dear White People. Naomi’s writing and performance is featured on The Mortified Guide, now available on Netflix. To learn more, click here.
  14. Cori Lin is a Japanese/Taiwanese-American illustrator and designer based in Minneapolis, MN. She enjoys working with people who love food, people who have a mission, and people who make things. Her work focuses on the stories of people of color and other marginalized people, bringing their experiences to the center. Her work has included local midwest powerhouses (Pollen Midwest, Springboard for the Arts), nationally recognized brands (3Mgives, the YMCA), grassroots orgs/causes (RadAzns, Minneapolis Renters Coalition) and more. To learn more, click here.
  15. Chanida Phaengdara Potter is a Lao American writer, community builder, and social justice advocate. She has a keen love for storytelling and believes in using communication tools (social media, blogging, etc) to drive information-sharing that empowers the most vulnerable and isolated communities. She is currently the Executive Director of The Southeast Asian Diaspora Storytelling Project (The SEAD Project), which has published a collective community story book called Planting SEADS. To learn more, click here.
  16. mk nguyen is a second generation Vietnamese mom based in Frogtown, a community organizer (and supporter), storyteller, and program manager for St. Paul Promise Neighborhood. She has worked behind the scenes in many activist spaces to push for change. Mostly recently, she has contributed to the production of Planting SEADS, a collective community storybook by The SEAD Project.

This list only just skims the surface of the number of amazing Asian American women located in the Twin Cities. There are so many more Asian women here who are currently advocating for justice, working as Executive Directors of a nonprofit, or even just working hard in their community to ensure justice for all.

Who are some of the women in your life who have had a profound effect on the way you live?

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