Friday, January 27, 2012

Women Representing in our Nation's Capitol

Last weekend I attended the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) conference in Washington DC as a representative from the totally kickin' Bay Area chapter. To read about some great facts, figures and insight from the conference, yu can also check fellow NAPAWF sister, Olivia's blog post at Asian Pacific Americans for Progress.

The conference was a beautiful experience.  Flights cross country are always exhausting, but I had a great hotel and got to immediately meet with fellow NAPAWF sisters at the locally famous Nando's peri peri chicken place. This dinner was my first time meeting NAPAWF sisters from other chapters and they were a cool bunch as  expected (the NAPAWF chapter in the Bay Area helped me to make some of my first real friendships in the Bay Area, so yes they're a great bunch!). The night ended with a bunch of my east coast homies from college and I talking Afghan politics while the first snowfall that DC has had this season drifted beautifully outside. Ah how I miss snow!

Oh snowflakes, I love thee

The next day the conference was on! I think it was the coolest conference that I've been to, full of passionate, friendly young Asian women ready to go out there and fight for the rights of our communities. That morning,  NAPAWF founding sisters and conference participants sat on the floor to talk, instead of sitting on a typical panel desk with a microphone. I think that symbolized the organization and the women in the organization better than anything. This was not a sisterhood of hierarchy; we were on equal footing with one another, we are friends, colleagues and sisters in arms! Founding sisters shared their deeply personal stories as to why civil rights, women's rights, immigrant rights work mattered to them. Most of us are immigrants or were the children of immigrants that struggled and suffered as they worked hard to establish a life in a new land (my story included). It was wonderful to feel connected, though I was desperately trying not to cry from their stories because well, my make up would run (I'm kidding...sorta).

Keepin it real, NAPAWF style
The rest of the weekend went by fast, as I tried to stay awake and aware despite my jet lag. There was a fierce open mic night with NAPAWF sisters performing last Saturday and I was floored by the performances. Passion, activism and art go hand in hand and it was pretty empowering to watch my fellow sisters express themselves.

But the big day was Monday because it was Lunar New Years, Happy Year of the Dragon! Oh yea and it was also LOBBY DAY.  Often when people think about 'lobbying' they think of cigarette and oil companies. Unfortunately though do hold a disproportionate hold on what goes down in Congress, there are amazing groups and non-profits that lobby for reproductive rights, immigrant rights and healthcare reform (the good kind). Speaking of reproductive rights,  last Sunday was the 39th anniversary of the landmark supreme court decision Roe v. Wade, and that Monday, while we at NAPAWF were fighting for women's rights over the bodies, anti-abortion crowds descended upon the capitol like dark vultures of oppressive doom (sorry I'm biased, does it show?). It was a bit surreal for me to race through DC through the rain in a cab while mostly Caucasian masses held up huge photos of mutilated fetuses and signs proclaiming their love for inequality, I mean...religion (or something).

NAPAWF sisters looking well behaved, don't be fooled
I was part of the Healthcare advocacy group that would visit Congresswoman Barbara Lee's office (of whom I am a proud constituent).  All of the congressional offices we visited were friendly, as in they were on our side when it came to progressive stances on immigration and healthcare issues, but this was a chance, a first for many of us, to experience lobbying for our causes and to connect with congressional offices to provide them with support from our 11 national chapters when it comes to national issues.

Did I mention that I love Congresswoman Barbara Lee? I love Barbara Lee, and it was great to drop into her DC office. We met with one of her head staffers and though Lee's office is petty aware on on our side when it comes to healthcare issues, I made sure to notify her office about the plight that refugee women and men faced in the Bay Area due to unbelievably high unemployment rates (which conversely affects everything from healthcare, to family violence, to poverty). Though local leaders in the Bay Area are usually progressive, many may not know of issues affecting certain communities on the ground until someone (usually advocates) notify them about the issue directly. 

After our lobbying efforts, we joined a Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Women's Briefing with a panel of great speakers from different Federal agencies and White House initiatives. After the policy briefing, NAPAWF was given their moment to shine by sharing our personal stories regarding reasons behind fighting  for universal healthcare, ensuring safe environmental conditions at nail salons and avoiding the deportations of innocent people and tearing apart families through our immigration laws.  These are issues that are integral to the well being of not just our communities, but for communities throughout the country. 

Again with the tears, during the briefing, my friend and fellow Bay Area NAPAWF sister told her emotional story of her mothers healthcare problems. You can hear her story, as well as the stories of other NAPAWF ladies here. Again I was trying not to cry hysterically in front of the White House panel. That was hard, but definitely not as hard as telling the story in the first. Props to you Jenny Ton, and thank you for sharing!

Go girls!! Right up there on the White House website front page!

I had to leave before the panel ended, but I had the fortune of running into former NAPAWF Executve Director and current White House Initiative on AAPI's Executive Director, Kiran Ahuja in the hallway. That was a nice end to the conference as I rushed off to catch my flight.

It was a special experience to get to know and represent alongside such amazing, strong and loving women. Thank you girls and thanks to NAPAWF for such an empowering weekend. It gives me hope to continue the work I do. I know that as long as there are women like us in the world, we will continually fight for the rights of communities and individuals who do not have the opportunity or privilege to stand up for their rights. May we one day have universal healthcare, uphold and expand our reproductive rights and see a more fair and just immigration system. These are tall orders, but I have hope, I know that WE have hope and are working to make these dreams a reality.

Sisters, proud and taking charge on Capitol Hill!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

In Memoriam of my friend, Yvette

My friend Yvette passed away this morning after a very short and sudden fight with terminal brain and lung cancer.

I remember her telling me that she had cancer during a late summer BBQ. She looked fine, acted fine, seemed fine, but she had cancer. I didn't know how to react. Part of me just didn't think that it was real, part of me just thought that somehow, she would be okay. Death  doesn't seem like a reality until it's too late.

Until this morning, I had made plans to visit Yvette in her hospice facility. I signed up to help out with caretaking assistance once she got out. I thought we could spend time together, that she could tell me stories, that maybe I could be there for her.

I wasn't yet. I was going to be. Last week she seemed fine. Other friends reported that she was in relatively good spirits, she seemed to be holding up. I wanted to see her tomorrow until I received the call today to say final goodbyes.

I promptly cancelled my plans for today, frustrated with myself for not visiting earlier this week. I drove to two different nursing homes, wrong ones, no Yvette. Finally I got to the right one and ran out. I asked the nurse for her room. The nurse looked at me, shook her head and let me know that Yvette had passed away that morning at 9am. I was there at 12pm, 3 hours too late, 1 week too late 1 month too late. I spoke to another nurse that let me know that her family had been with her when she passed, she was not alone. This entire time, she had never been alone. I started to tear up as I attempted to keep composure, the nurse didn't seem to know what to say. I quietly thanked her and called up Yvette's friends to let them know that she was gone.

I think I may have been the first person to know of her passing outside of her family. After finally coming to visit her, I ended up breaking the death news.

I realize that this post is about me, my feelings on this day. As Roberto reminded me, it should be about her. Maybe writing a post about me makes it easier, I don't have to feel as sad as I would be if I wrote about her.

But she was great. I met her at an ASATA (Alliance of South Asians Taking Action) meeting late last Spring for the first time. Months later she came to my birthday. She was the first person to arrive and helped me to set up for my party. She was my last guest as well and I drove her home late that night. She told me stories of her trips to Africa, her life philosophies and her passion for justice and progressive change.

Packed room in honor of a wonderful woman, activist and friend
Today, there was supposed to be a fundraiser at the La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley to help pay for her care. It ended up being a commemoration in her honor instead. The place was packed as friends of hers sang, played instruments and recited poetry.  I looked around at the sheer number of people who came out to show love and remembrance for Yvette. Her years of activism, involvement and friendships with us all were not lost, they were celebrated.

Death frustrates me, I don't think I handle it well (but who does?). I don't like missing people as I've mentioned before and before.

But when I left the Hospice center, I felt light. Yvette was no longer suffering. I knew that she was in severe pain at the end. She didn't deserve that pain. She deserved what she fought for her whole life,  she deserved peace.

And that is what she has now, peace.

I love you Yvette, thank you for being my friend.

Yvette and I at my birthday last July

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Gratitude for 2011, Hope for 2012 (Thank you, Thank you, Thank YOU!)

Whoa 2012 started out with some pretty great news for me. At approximately 10 minutes past midnight, I checked my gmail inbox to see that I had been accepted as a 2012 fellow at the New Leaders Council Institute for its San Francisco program. This is probably been the first really good news I've had in two years. No joke, the last two years have been so rough for me. It's nice to see some hard work pay off, and I am just so grateful.

Hopefully 2012 will bring less feelings like this

A little over two years I came to the Bay Area with high hopes, big dreams, stars in my eyes and a new love in my heart. Everything came crashing down about a year later...if you want details, you can check older postings here, here and here (wow that's a lot).

Basically I left/got illegally pushed out of a pretty horrible job, spent a year unemployed amidst the worst time in the economic downturn, and had my dreams of going to law school (or any grad school for that matter) basically go kaput. I moved to the Bay Area in the Summer of 2009. 2010 was easily one of the worst and most challenging years of my life. 2011 was a bootstraps year, I was so ready for change, so frustrated and just wanting for things to improve. At this time last year I was unemployed,  and inspired yet terrified at an uncertain future. The future is still uncertain (and perhaps it always is), but things HAVE gotten better. I am tired from all the effort this year took, and so much went on, I ran around so much, DID so much, met so many amazing people and had such a great array of experiences that it's actually overwhelming for me to even reflect on all of this.

Preach it Abe!

I love that this blog is a window into my journey in the past year, it chronicled my ups, downs and good times. It also followed the beautiful souls I was able to meet, connect with and befriend.

So here I am, blogging again from Lake Tahoe (again? 2011 was a good year). I'm sitting in front of a roaring fire that's been on almost non-stop for a few days. When I got the news about the NLC decision, I actually teared up. I think some of it was tears of relief, relief at the possibility of things getting better, of my dreams potentially coming true one day.

Seriously Lake Tahoe, I love you

But I also teared up because I couldn't help but reflect on the kindness, the mentorship and support of so many good friends, both old and new, who were really there for me.

So this is a thanks, thanks to the East Coast friends who picked up my calls and spoke to me for hours, calming me, soothing my anxieties and telling me over and over again that they believed in me. Thank you to friends who opened their homes to me when I attended conferences, friends who let me sleep on their absent siblings' cloud-like dream beds, friends who took time out of their work break with me to grab a pizza in NYC and listen to me and console me during the times that I felt less than stellar (less than stellar being a serious understatement).

Thank you to the friends that spent hours almost every day to give me free grammar lessons that helped me to become a better, more confident blogger and writer. Thank you to the strangers, and later new friends who took out time during their day to tell me their stories so that I could share them with the world.

Thank you to the friends who never let me pay for meals because I was broke. Who wined and dined me generously in their homes over heartfelt conversation. Thank you to friends for the hugs and for just hanging out with me as we built memories that we will always hold dear.

Thank you to my stupendous mentors, who sent me job listings, who invited me to networking events and agreed to always be my references =)

Thank you to the artists, the cool, inspiration people who wrote novels, shared poetry (including reading mine), took photos, created spectacular music, taught me how to use twitter properly (#hashtag what!) and made the most beautiful latte art I have ever seen as we shared coffee and ideas while talking about beauty, the world, and our goals.

Thank you to a particular photographer/mentor who has been an amazing new friend, teacher and inspiration for me to shoot for the stars (or just shoot in general) and challenge barriers I have set up for myself. I will travel the world, just like you one day and I can't wait to share my photos and journeys with you and everyone else!

Thank you to the organizations that believed in me, took me in and paid me ;-) to do the work I love, I seriously have the best co-workers (aka friends) ever!

don't you wish your colleagues were fun like mine?
Thank you to the community leaders and activists who welcomed me with open arms and taught me so much about strength, community and inspiration to improve our world.

Thank you to my new sisters, who helped me express myself on stage and find my voice to help tell my stories, my poems, my monologues for the world to hear.
Yonis 4ever! Photo courtesy of
 Saurabh, Nasir, Mike, Inder, Shobana, Mahesh and Kiran

Thank you to Michael and Evachan, who held me while I cried, listened to me when I bitched and always gave me a place to stay and eat. Even continents apart, I know my love for you both and the family you have provided me will never fade.

I feel like crying, this is making me emotional. But good tears, happy tears.

Thank you to my new best friend, Nwe, it was love at first sight when we met, and I am so grateful to have you and your beautiful sons in my life. Technically I made 4 new best friends this year! I love being a Khalamoni =).

The Alvarado-Hussain-Oo Clan

To to my little sister who has been there since she was born (though at the time it wasn't by choice muahaha), I seriously lucked out...the Hussain gene pool could not have produced a more awesome best friend for me. Thanks for listening even when I sounded crazy and repeated myself over and over again.

I present to you, the best and brightest of the Hussain gene pool
And thanks, last but not least to Roberto, who has loved me through everything. Who picked me up when I was down (literally picked up), who made me laugh so I couldn't physically cry anymore, I am blessed to have you as my 24/7 best friend. Sometimes you need someone to believe in you with all their heart when you don't have the energy to do so and I am grateful, grateful, grateful for that.

Great, this sounds like an album inset...I'd like to thank my producers, Lil Rock Z and my fans 4 lyfe....just kidding (I have no idea who Lil Rock Z is, I just made that up).

zomg Lil Rock that you?
I am excited for 2012, I know things will be amazing, I am gearing up for a trip to Vietnam from late February to early March, my first time ever visiting Southeast Asia to help build homes with Habitat for Humanity's Global Village project (oh and hey if you want to make a donation just click on the link on the top right of this page, or just contact me! 2012 is a year to develop fundraising skills you know ;-P), as well as an upcoming trip to Washington DC for the National Asian Pacific Women's Political Forum (NAPAWF) national conference to connect and build relationships with some fierce and powerful women. I also know that 2012 will have it's difficult parts, like any year. I have a dear friend who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so there are still sobering realities to face. But may I face them with love and most importantly friendship =).

Happy 2012 to you all!

Wishing you all lots of squishy hugs in the New Year