The Asian-Pacific Student Association hosted its 21st annual Asian Pacific-American Awareness Conference titled ‘Making Waves: Locating Progress and Inciting Change’ last Saturday.
The all-day event included a welcome address featuring keynote speaker Helen Zia, a variety of workshops that attendees could choose to attend and a closing keynote address by Fidel Rodriguez. The selection of workshops reflected this year’s theme of Asian-American progress as a community.
The first workshop session included a selection of six different seminars before lunch, and the second workshop session included four different seminars after lunch, covering issues like identity, activism in the community, demonstration through the media, political opposition and life as modern Asian-Americans. During workshops, the speakers led discussions that examined the cultural and political role of Asian-Americans in current and historical events.
One of the workshops, titled ‘Organizing Against Sex Trafficking,’ was led by Gabriela Network members and UC Irvine alumni Jollene Levid, Kathleen Amidar, Laureen Abustan and Mona Navarro. It focused on sex trafficking and the work that the Gabriela Network conducts to stop trafficking worldwide, especially in the Philippines. The Gabriela Network is a volunteer-driven organization of women that was founded in 1989 in Chicago and now has chapters nationwide, including one in Irvine.
‘I thought it was a really good event and especially informative,’ said fourth-year sociology major Rachel Vo. ‘I especially liked how it highlighted economic situations with other countries, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, and the neoliberal economic policies that the United States advocates. It made me think about how this situation seems so removed from our community, even though it affects us in every way. For instance, a sex worker was found in Irvine. It really illustrates how relevant it is to our lives.’
The organization’s name, Gabriela, serves to honor one of the first female generals in the Philippines, Gabriela Silang, who led a rebellion against the Spanish colonizers in the 18th century. The Gabriela Network works closely with the Gabriela Alliance in the Philippines to raise awareness about sex trafficking, globalization, militarism, labor export and the consequences surrounding the spread of imperialism.
After creating an intimate environment by arranging attendees into a circle and having everyone introduce themselves, the speakers eased into the topic by first defining key terms, such as sex trafficking, globalization, militarism and labor export, and collected questions from the audience to address throughout the workshop.
According to Levid, ever since the Western world came to Asia, the inability to stop the flow of trafficking has not been a new phenomenon because mainstream media, such as pornography, has normalized it. Sex trafficking involves the worldwide selling of women and children as prostitutes, domestic workers and mail-order brides. Last year, 750,000 Filipina women were trafficked to 168 countries. Of these, 150,000 were driven to Japan’s geisha strip and 5,000 were sent out as mail-order brides. Currently, the number one export from the Philippines is women. The coffins of approximately five women who die abroad as a result of trafficking are imported every day.
Following the general introduction, the speakers outlined specific events in Filipino history that contributed to the spread of sex trafficking. According to the speakers, American soldiers funded the venues that sell prostitutes as commodities for American GIs and tourists on vacation from other nations.
In relating the problem of sex trafficking to the United States, the speakers addressed the use of mail-order bride services within our country by first introducing the presumed notion held by men that an American woman is too strong-minded to be as submissive to her husband as an Asian wife might be. The Gabriela Network has lobbied in Washington to stop these mail-order bride services and have a bill written to ensure the protection of women entering a mail-order union.
‘This event made me realize that anyone can get involved, and like [Daniel Tsang said in the ‘Documenting Student Activism in the OC’ workshop], you do not have to reinvent the wheel,’ said third-year dance major Robyn DeGuzman. ‘There are already groups that you can get involved in. I was extremely surprised at the role the United States has in sex trafficking in the Philipines.’