Protesters hold placards expressing their opinions during a demonstration against Asian hate after the killings of several Asian women in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

My entire life has been shaped by a moment I can’t remember. When I was 3 years old my parents divorced, and the stigma of it left my mom ostracized from the Indian community. My childhood memories are mostly of my sister and I watching TV and doing homework together while eating Maggi noodles on the couch. My mom was a single parent and worked a lot, but we knew she was making sure that our lives would be easier than hers. She left her home and family behind to raise us in the U.S. because she wanted us to have opportunities and independence and freedom—that we wouldn’t need to rely on a man to achieve our dreams. As long as we had each other, we’d be enough.   

I cried when I heard about the shootings in Atlanta. I cried for the women who were murdered; I cried for their families who expected them to come home that evening; I cried for my community. Asian American women have been ignored for so long. Political leaders only reach out to us when they want our vote. We’re excluded from charts about demographic information and lumped in as “other.” And when we finally get national media attention, it’s because six of us were brutally murdered. It shouldn’t have taken our lives for the country to pay attention to us.

Asian American women have reported two to three times as many incidents as men in the wake of hateful anti-Asian rhetoric regarding COVID-19. While the coronavirus has been weaponized against us to enable more racialized misogyny, it isn’t a new phenomenon. At its core, this country is about upholding a system of whiteness through colonialism and imperialism against all communities of color.  

There’s a reason my mother and so many others taught us to keep our heads down, not to draw attention to ourselves, and to play by the rules. It was to try and keep us alive in a heteronormative, white-dominated, patriarchal society. We just try to do what’s best for ourselves and our families, but still just our existence is enough to get us killed. So maybe the problem isn’t us.

Asian American women have been reduced to dumplings and bindis. White people want to appropriate our culture and relish our foods but not see the people who created them as fully human. In some spaces, I’m brown. In other spaces, I’m a woman. I’ve been told I’m not a person of color because I’m Asian, and other times I’m told I’m not Asian because I’m South Asian. 

I started organizing Asian American and Pacific Islander women and girls because I finally found a space that works at the intersections of identity to build power and fight for visibility. 

We work to shift narratives, dismantle systems of oppression, and center those most impacted by our issues because this harm has stretched across centuries and generations and we can’t do that without addressing our own trauma. I work with aunties like my mother, wonderful women like my sister, and all of our youth organizers on training wheels. Together, we drive campaigns and hold our system accountable for serving our needs, combatting racism and misogyny through grassroots organizing. We are powerful women fighting for space to be ourselves—whole and unapologetic and with self-determination. I am all of it, all at once, and so are the other Asian-American women around me.

Bianca Jyotishi is the Georgia Organizing Manager for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), the only multi-issue, progressive, community organizing and policy advocacy organization...