Asian Immigrant Women Advocates (AIWA) was founded in 1983 to empower low-income, limited English-speaking immigrant women workers to be the best advocates to bring about inclusiveness, fairness, and justice in their workplaces and the larger society. Through its long-term, step-by-step framework called the “Community Transformation Organizing Strategy” (CTOS), it has created a space and structure for thousands of immigrant women workers to be progressively and systematically more involved in the organization and social justice work and become the leaders of social transformation. To create more comprehensive social changes, AIWA recognizes the importance of developing intergenerational grassroots leadership and expanded in 1997 its mission to also empower limited English-speaking immigrant youths from low-income families through its “Youth Build Immigrant Power Project” (YBIP). For more details, go to its website: www.aiwa.org.
A BRIEF HISTORY & PROGRAMS:
Originally focusing on providing English classes for hotel workers in San Francisco, AIWA now has a long history of developing the grassroots leadership of immigrant women who worked in historically exploitative industries, such as garment shops, food service, home care, electronics assembly, beauty salons, and cleaning industries, and who organized social justice campaigns to challenge multiple oppressions they experience and to advocate for themselves and their communities to create a more just and inclusive society. A historic Garment Workers’ Justice and Community Equity Campaigns are examples. Ms. Wu reflects how her involvement in AIWA has changed her life:
I can think of four words that would describe my situation as a recent immigrant. I felt disabled because I didn’t know how to get around on my own. Blind, because I couldn’t read. Deaf, because I couldn’t understand what people said to me and Mute, because I couldn’t speak English. At first, I just came to AIWA to learn English but there was a campaign going on, so I also learned how we could win justice for immigrant women. Through working on the campaign, by striving and letting my own voice be heard (developing leadership), the result was a success; it was an example. I have to say that it is because of AIWA that I developed my confidence and my attitude of self-empowerment. Now, as a senior trainer I actually train other Asian immigrant women on the skills I learned from AIWA. Even though I still don’t know English, now that I have confidence, I can participate in a lot of activities and programs and even work together with people from other communities.
In 2022-2023, AIWA's adult educational programs continue to provide trainings on workplace safety and literacy (English), digital literacy, and civil rights. Women leaders have been providing workshops on fire safety & infectious diseases and pandemic preparedness in workplaces and "Black Lives Matter, Anti-Asian Violence, and Asian/Black Alliances." Facing an increase in violence against Asian Americans, Chinese speaking women have been engaged in a campaign to make Oakland Chinatown safer and welcoming. The weekly support group meeting of Nepali speaking women provides critical in-language information about local resources, such as unemployment insurance, emergency relief, and domestic violence referrals. AIWA's youth leaders, who meet weekly, have been conducting a 3-month long in-person training with their peers. A committee of homecare workers have been campaigning for language access and fair retirement plans for homecare workers in Alameda County. Workplace Literacy (English) Classes resumed virtually this Spring and will continue this Fall.