My Shero

Jennifer Wells-Qu

02 September 2016

When asked earlier this year who my Shero is, the first names that came to mind were Jimmy Carter and Nicholas Kristof. Phenomenal men, but how sad that despite majoring in Women’s Studies and working at a women’s rights non-profit, as a woman, I did not first think of a woman to honor.  I would fault the media for not better representing women, but I also must acknowledge perpetuating a value hierarchy of men’s work over women’s. It’s on us to change that mentality. As a global society, we are beginning to give due credence to women’s work, be it for their disproportionate daily unpaid labor or for their leadership in the fight for equality. However, it is still too easy to slip back into the status quo and think of Jimmy Carter before Rosalynn Carter or Nicholas Kristof before Mukhtar Mai. And so I thought again and, being surrounded by phenomenally courageous and accomplished female leaders, I was inundated with options.

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My Shero
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When asked earlier this year who my Shero is, the first names that came to mind were Jimmy Carter and Nicholas Kristof. Phenomenal men, but how sad that despite majoring in Women’s Studies and working at a women’s rights non-profit, as a woman, I did not first think of a woman to honor.  I would fault the media for not better representing women, but I also must acknowledge perpetuating a value hierarchy of men’s work over women’s. It’s on us to change that mentality. As a global society, we are beginning to give due credence to women’s work, be it for their disproportionate daily unpaid labor or for their leadership in the fight for equality. However, it is still too easy to slip back into the status quo and think of Jimmy Carter before Rosalynn Carter or Nicholas Kristof before Mukhtar Mai. And so I thought again and, being surrounded by phenomenally courageous and accomplished female leaders, I was inundated with options.

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My Shero is a champion of women’s rights, a pioneering civil rights activist, and a symbol of integrity and perseverance. Perhaps most personally resonant for me, she is also an Asian-American woman. But let’s back up a few months first. In May of this year, I traveled with our Senior Management to Nairobi for the annual Board of Directors meeting. After the opening celebration on the first night, I found myself walking out next to Lia, my Shero’s partner. In casual conversation, I asked her how they had met. She responded, “over a hate crime.” Astonished, I asked her which one. She named the racially-targeted murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit in the 1980s. It suddenly dawned on me that her partner, our Board Chair, was not just the award-winning journalist that my initial Google searches had revealed. She was the woman in the documentary “Who Killed Vincent Chin?,” which I had seen in my seminal Asian/Pacific Islander-American History class in college. She is the woman who worked tirelessly for justice and inspired a largely activist-dormant community into action. Her name had eluded me after watching the documentary, but her impression on me was indelible. As a Women’s Studies and East Asian Studies double major, she is the epitome of my studies at the juncture of gender and race in America. I reddened with embarrassment at my belated realization and tried to mitigate the reflexive fan-girling that came from it.

My Shero is Helen Zia, former Chair of our Board of Directors and award-winning author, journalist, and Fulbright Scholar. She led the quest for justice following the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980s (”Who Killed Vincent Chin?”), effectively galvanizing the Asian-American community to join the civil rights movement as active participants. She then became a journalist and was Executive Editor and writer at Ms. Magazine, contributing groundbreaking pieces such as her expose on sweatshop factories in San Francisco (“Made in the USA”). She also investigated date rape at the University of Michigan. which led to campus demonstrations and policy changes. Some of her most notable publications are Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, a finalist for the prestigious Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, and My Country Versus Me, a book she co-authored with Wen Ho Lee on the Los Alamos scientist falsely accused of spying for China during the McCarthy era. She has been a longterm champion of gay rights, and she and her partner Lia Shigemura were one of the first couples to legally marry in California. She has no shortage of accomplishments, and her work continues still. Here’s to honoring a woman, an Asian-American woman, and the best role model I can think of!

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My Shero is a champion of women’s rights, a pioneering civil rights activist, and a symbol of integrity and perseverance. Perhaps most personally resonant for me, she is also an Asian-American woman. But let’s back up a few months first. In May of this year, I traveled with our Senior Management to Nairobi for the annual Board of Directors meeting. After the opening celebration on the first night, I found myself walking out next to Lia, my Shero’s partner. In casual conversation, I asked her how they had met. She responded, “over a hate crime.” Astonished, I asked her which one. She named the racially-targeted murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit in the 1980s. It suddenly dawned on me that her partner, our Board Chair, was not just the award-winning journalist that my initial Google searches had revealed. She was the woman in the documentary “Who Killed Vincent Chin?,” which I had seen in my seminal Asian/Pacific Islander-American History class in college. She is the woman who worked tirelessly for justice and inspired a largely activist-dormant community into action. Her name had eluded me after watching the documentary, but her impression on me was indelible. As a Women’s Studies and East Asian Studies double major, she is the epitome of my studies at the juncture of gender and race in America. I reddened with embarrassment at my belated realization and tried to mitigate the reflexive fan-girling that came from it.

My Shero is Helen Zia, former Chair of our Board of Directors and award-winning author, journalist, and Fulbright Scholar. She led the quest for justice following the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980s (”Who Killed Vincent Chin?”), effectively galvanizing the Asian-American community to join the civil rights movement as active participants. She then became a journalist and was Executive Editor and writer at Ms. Magazine, contributing groundbreaking pieces such as her expose on sweatshop factories in San Francisco (“Made in the USA”). She also investigated date rape at the University of Michigan. which led to campus demonstrations and policy changes. Some of her most notable publications are Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, a finalist for the prestigious Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, and My Country Versus Me, a book she co-authored with Wen Ho Lee on the Los Alamos scientist falsely accused of spying for China during the McCarthy era. She has been a longterm champion of gay rights, and she and her partner Lia Shigemura were one of the first couples to legally marry in California. She has no shortage of accomplishments, and her work continues still. Here’s to honoring a woman, an Asian-American woman, and the best role model I can think of!

Resources

Speak Out Now
White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Resources

Speak Out Now
White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders