By Kimmy Li
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Young Asian small business owners and creatives gathered in early February at Pass the Mic, an Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS) youth forum event, to discuss with other youth in attendance how they have used their creative outlets to promote social justice in their communities.
The event was organized by the Civic Engagement Youth Organizing Team as a space open to all King County youth to voice their thoughts and deliberate important issues and changes they would like to see as a collective community.
“Protesting and lobbying are super valid forms of civic engagement, but so is creating, right?” said Mimi To, a team member of the ACRS Youth Team. “The intention behind Pass the Mic was to show that activism doesn’t take one form.”
Student speakers were invited to the event to share their own experiences and encourage other youth to use their own platforms and creative mediums to get started with advocacy.
Tianna Andresen, 22, is one of the featured small business owners that attended the event. She is a full-time student at the University of Washington (UW) and owner of Barkada Baby, a fashion business that sells bucket hats and stickers.
Barkada Baby began as an Instagram page for Andresen to showcase her visual art, fashion design, spoken word poetry, writings, and school projects. She started it as a platform during the pandemic, separate from her personal Instagram, to connect with other people through art.
“Since the beginning, I wanted to just create a space for especially marginalized communities to come together around art and connect with each other,” Andresen said.
As her page started to get more traction from family and friends, they encouraged her to make stickers with the prints she designed. After early success, she started to get more into fashion design, and her page morphed into a small business.
Maria Macatbag, 22, is another student business owner and a senior at the UW who has used her creativity as a way to celebrate Filipinx identity, while raising funds for Filipinx community organizations. Macatbag started her jewelry business, AwawAwawCo, also during the start of the pandemic.
Macatbag said she wanted to be unique and to have design products that represented her.
“I wanted to show it like an everyday perspective of my life, my identity, and hope that people who see my products can relate to it in some type of way,” Macatbag said.
Each of her designs had a story or symbolic symbol based on her own life in the Philippines and the community where she grew up in the United States. Her first earrings, featuring a symbol with the sun and three stars, represent the flag symbols of the Philippines and a part of her identity.
With the profits that she makes from her online business, she donates to Filipinx nonprofit organizations and mutual aid organizations.
Macatbag said that these platforms are one way that creatives and local business owners can share their own experiences to serve the community.
“The second way of supporting the community is to be a mentor, a speaker of the forefront kind of runner in a way,” Macatbag said. “There are younger creatives who want to be in that space to give advice and tips on how they can prosper and grow.”
Through civic engagement and community organizing events, such as the Pass the Mic event, the ACRS Youth Team hopes to bring a community of empowered youth together to use their voices and platforms to advocate for issues that they are passionate about.
At the event, they discussed how students could engage in social justice work in both traditional and non-traditional civic engagement.
“We just support ACRS priorities at the time as the ACRS Civic Engagement Team provides youth team members with the tools, knowledge, and empowerment to jumpstart our own community projects,” said To. “In the fall, it was a lot about getting Asians and immigrant families to register to vote because it was a historically excluded population and just recently was a legislative session. But it’s been a free flowing process and we’re learning as we go.”
Some of the youth’s team work includes encouraging political engagement, such as attending virtual lobbying meetings and participating in political demonstrations.
To said that the inspiration behind the event was to create a space for education, teaching people about advocacy and ACRS’s legislative priorities, including lobbying, immigrant employment, accessible healthcare, and housing.
Students learned how they could engage in social work, including researching where their money goes, how the school allocates money, and ways to support mutual aid organizations.
They also discussed how social justice work can be expanded to incorporate non-traditional ways of including creative mediums. This includes writing essays and think pieces or making jewelry, stickers, and clothes that raise money for a cause—all different acts of resistance to systemic oppression.
“We wanted to make a space to unpack it in a way that would make activism and civic engagement more accessible and easy to understand for youth,” said To. “We also wanted it to be fun, by including raffle prizes from local businesses and creatives, to challenge the notion that marginalized folks have to constantly re-experience our pain and oppression to engage in social justice work, and instead celebrate our existence as resistance.”
Throughout the event, there were raffles for participants as a way to give them encouragement that they could also contribute to their communities in creative ways and not just through traditional political engagement.
Participants and student speakers also had the opportunity to reflect on their own journey with activism, what they want to learn more about, and how they will take what they learned and apply it in their own lives.
Andresen said that she hopes to hold some sort of fundraiser or mutual aid when she gets a bigger platform to give back to the community. From the start, her motto for Barkada Baby is “Community made, community dedicated.”
“Barkada Baby as a brand may be small, but the spirit of Barkada is anything but,” said Andresen in her most recent Instagram post. “I hope that Barkada Baby can grow and become something that will contribute to our collective life or at the very least, remind people of the importance of their existence to our collective life.”
The word Barkada, a slang term in Tagalog meaning a group of friends, holds a special meaning to Andresen.
“It was introduced to me by a group of Filipino friends, and we could go around the halls saying, ‘Barkada Boys,’ when we see each other as a greeting and reminder that we have community with each other,” Andresen said.
As she started to get more involved in social justice and education, the word “Barkada” shifted for her and became more of a word to describe the community.
“There’s this quote by Toni Cade Bambara, and it’s, ‘The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible,’” said Andresen. “That’s something I hold very close to me and something I want to use for Barkada Baby, so continuing to make art that is education for others, different things going on within my community, but then also uplifting other marginalized groups in the process.”
Kimmy can be reached at email@example.com.