Miriam Yeung is joining Take Root 2016 as our keynote speaker. Miriam serves as the Executive Director of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), the country’s only national, multi-issue, progressive organization dedicated to social justice and human rights for Asian American and Pacific Islander women and girls in the United States.
Miriam was born in Hong Kong and raised in Brooklyn, NY. A proud queer Asian-American immigrant woman activist, Miriam works fearlessly for social and reproductive justice and is champion for the health, rights, and justice of AAPI women and girls, and many others. She is a mom to two young daughters.
Take Root intern, Raven Gray, chatted with Miriam about her activism and work in the movement.
Take Root: When did you first discover you were an activist?
Miriam Yeung: I was doing activism work in high school; some work around environmental justice, working with Amnesty International, and also with the Red Cross. But my deep dive into reproductive justice work happened in college. I came out in the middle of high school, and back then, we were still in the height of the AIDS crisis. So by the time I started college at NYU, Sex Ed. and doing peer-based Sex Ed. had a lot of urgency. All around me I knew people were literally dying from HIV/AIDS. My first reproductive justice work was doing HIV/ AIDS prevention work, education, and also advocacy.
TR: How did you become involved with National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum?
MY: Prior to coming to National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), I was at the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center. I was working on a project there that was exciting; it was about linking up the LGBT movement with reproductive rights, health, and justice movements because so many of our issues are at the core, the same: the role of sexuality, reproduction, feminism, gender and gender identity. It was through that project, called Causes In Common, that I first met NAPAWF, because NAPAWF had just published their first reproductive health and justice agenda. Because NAPAWF has always been multi issue and has always had LGBTQ leaders within our movement, there were a lot of overlaps and connections. I was an admirer of the work that NAPAWF did and was doing, and 8 years ago, I found out that NAPAWF was looking for a new Executive Director; so I jumped at the chance to be able to lead this incredibly exciting organization.
TR: What is your advice for an upcoming activist?
MY: There’s lots of ways to answer that. I’ve been struck by what I heard Barack Obama say recently to a group of young people, which was, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘don’t worry about who you want to become; worry about what you want to do.’ And I loved that as a framework for young activists. Many of us work in an identity-based organization, and we think a lot about what identities we have, what identities we hold. Of course they are sources of pride, right? And of resilience and support. But when I think back, it’s an angsty question to ask “who do I want to be when I grow up” rather than “what do I want to do?” So, I love this idea of picking a problem and really working at it for a long time, or working on it some and then picking a different problem. I think activism is really about solving problems. How do we fix something? How do we change the world? How do we fix it?
TR: What advice would you give to women?
MY: Another deep question– this is actually a question I’ve been thinking a lot about. Because I talk to a lot of women– women running amazing organizations and doing incredible work–each of us, when we get to our most quiet and vulnerable place, each of us admits to having some struggles with self-confidence and trusting in our voice and in our decisions. When I put that into context, when I realized that it really isn’t about “us” as individuals, when this is a shared experience across gender, it is the way sexism works and gets internalized. So one piece of advice that I am trying to follow and spread is that sometimes the worst parts of us are really about us, and then sometimes systems of oppression have created it. And there is something useful to me about putting it into a larger framework. As a social activist, I have more of a vocabulary to think about systemic oppression. It’s not as lonely when I know that it is something most of us struggle with. It’s not just about me, which I think helps eliminate the shame and stigma about admitting this is something that we struggle with. So, on a bumper sticker it might say, “it ain’t just all you.”
We are thrilled to have Miriam joining Take Root this year, and thankful for her taking the time to speak with us.
*edited for clarity and length
Follow the links for more in our 2016 Speaker Series: