API Chaya is committed to empowering survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking in order to gain safety, healing and wellness. By building power through serving, educating and mobilizing South Asian, Asian and Pacific Islander communities, we seek to end intimate and state violence and to advance social justice and immigrant rights. Our annual candlelight vigil is held to remember the lives of Susana Remerata Blackwell, her unborn child named Kristine, Phoebe Dizon and Veronica Laureta.
This tragedy in happened in 1995, a time when there were no culturally relevant services for API domestic violence survivors in our region. It was one of the catalysts for South Asian, Asian and Pacific Islander communities to come together to form what is now known as API Chaya. Friends organized each other to support survivors, and this organizing is the root of the Natural Helper program that we continue to this day.
While the shooting at the courthouse occurred 23 years ago, we continue to see gender-based violence in our communities. Studies indicate that 21 to 55 percent of Asian women in the U.S. report experiencing intimate physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime (API-GBV, 2015). 61 immigrant and refugee victims of domestic violence were killed by abusers in Washington state from 1997 through 2009 (Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2011).
We also want to acknowledge the many other forms of violence that are tearing our families and communities apart, including police violence, Islamophobia, transphobia, deportations and much more. Survivors of domestic and sexual violence and our communities are deeply impacted by these systems of power and control.
This year for our vigil, which was held on March 1, we chose the theme of Kapwa: Finding Refuge in Each Other for our vigil, because we are committed to generating a culture of safety and care where survivors are believed and supported. It is a reminder that we build community together in the face of violence and pain.
“With shared sadness, rage, and grief, remembering the lives taken away from us, we find healing within our collective action to change systems that enable all forms of violence and oppression,” adds community organizer Nikki Caintic.
Our vigil theme, “Kapwa”, is a Tagalog term meaning the shared interconnectedness among and between beings. By seeing the self in others, we are able to wholeheartedly support our communities while taking accountability for the violence existing in our world. Kapwa seeks to provide the vigil as a transformative and healing space of understanding through celebrating our communities’ legacy of resilience and survivorship.
Angeli Bhatt, API Chaya’s sexual assault prevention specialist, finds this year’s theme to be especially fitting. “[Kapwa] is present, at least in my heart and mind. Given the current administration, the attacks on immigrant and refugee communities throughout the U.S., it’s been humbling and beautiful to see that communities have been continuing to show up for one another in so many beautiful ways. It’s nice to be able to reflect on that theme this year and think about what we give, and what we mean to one another for the vigil and beyond,” said Bhatt.