Sunday, March 14, 2010

HerStory: Janice Mirikitani

There are few places that are mine,

I claim them:
this ground once vandalized,
this blue silk sky where embroidered cranes kept vigil.
this opened cage of torn barbed wire,
this bowl of sand from Amache Gate.
I keep them like a rock in my shoe
to remind me
to mourn not for lost fathers,
to mend my own body
to wait not for men or marriage vows
I claim my place
in this line of generations of women
lean with work
soft as tea
open as the tunnels of the sea
driven as the heels of freedom's feet
taut-fisted with reparations.
Generations of yellow women,
gather in me,
to crush the white wall
not with the wearing of sorrow,
Not with bitterness or regret.
We crush the white wall
our voices released

(Excerpt from the poem
Generations of Women by Janice Mirikitani)

A poet, activist, womanist, and community leader, Janice Mirikitani has been an icon for a generation of forward-thinking Asian American women. As a student at San Francisco State College in 1968, she was politicized and galvanized to action in a heady time of social unrest when groups such as the Black Panthers, Brown Berets, and Yellow Power sought self determination for their respective communities and demanded power to the people. It is within this movement that she found her voice, and summoned the courage to cast away the silence and shame that had up until then defined Asian American communities for too long. She spoke truth to power from her personal history as a Japanese American who experienced the injustice of internment during World War II and the aftermath of its effects on her family and community, and as a woman who knew all too well the pain of sexual violence.

In her writings, she dedicates poems to comrade sisters and war veterans, writes in remembrance of relatives lost, claims pride in ancestry, and speaks deftly and defiantly about racism, brutality, and the colonization of the mind. Her poems bear titles such as "We, the Dangerous," "Bitches Don't Wait," and "Sing With Your Body." She is a visionary who speaks in language that refuses victimization and instead chooses strength in the affirmation of self. Her language is electric, elegant, gorgeous– and at turns resilient, severe, defiant–proving that a woman, with the power of her words, can move mountains.

Hand in hand with her writing, Mirikitani's work as a community activist represents true strength, as she defines power by helping those in need improve their lives. For over 40 years, Mirikitani has created and directed programs and social services that empower women and youth within San Francisco's most marginalized communities as the Founding President of the Glide Foundation, and she continues to work for positive change.

For her commitment to social justice, for breaking the silence, for reminding us of how powerful we truly are, she is an inspiration to us all.

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