“font size=”1”>People marched at API Chaya’s annual vigil to show their support for survivors. Photo by Auriza Ugalino.

API Chaya held its 24th annual vigil and march on March 7, 2019. The organization hosts an event each year to occupy and return to the King County Courthouse where, on March 2, 1995, Susana Remerata Blackwell, her baby Kristine, as well as Susana’s friends Phoebe Dizon and Veronica Laureta, were murdered by Susana’s estranged husband. This was a domestic violence-related murder that, along with other tragedies in our communities, led to the creation of our agency and the installment of metal detectors at the Courthouse.

In preparation for the 25th anniversary vigil, four API Chaya founders participated in a panel to reflect on the organization’s founding and today’s work. Norma Timbang, Judy Chen, Aaliyah Gupta and Lana DeSouza shared what it was like breaking the silence on domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. “I remember people literally ran away from me when I would walk into a room,” Gupta laughed, “They were afraid I would talk to them about this issue that no one in our community wanted to acknowledge.” However, Lana remembers survivors seeking her out, and later, a husband who did harm coming to her kitchen table, too. There were moments that were unnerving.

Today, Judy Chen, the first executive director for the API Women and Family Safety Center (parent organization to API Chaya) is the acting director for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She shared, “With the challenges in the national climate, it’s hard to keep hopeful… But in our work, it is about love and relationships – leadership rooted in respectful relationships.” In speaking about the future of the anti-violence movement and work, Timbang also shared the same thread of focusing on a values-based approach, centering equity, inclusion, and diversity.

The founders panel was followed by roundtable reflections from nearly 100 supporters on survivor leadership within the anti-violence movement and our vision for the future. Investing heavily in community-based approaches to dealing with violence, including teaching and learning accountability for small and large harms. Today, API Chaya provides local leadership within the anti-violence movement on prevention and community organizing. Half of our resources are dedicated to crisis intervention while half are reserved to stop family violence and labor exploitation in our communities. This comes with a recognition that survivors who are the most isolated and face the most marginalization have the most barriers to safety.

In our closing program, Laurie Rocello Torres, language access organizer for API Chaya, shared, “Washington is the third most linguistically diverse state in America with 163 languages spoken… We need to recognize language access as a human right. Without language access, survivors end up incarcerated, can lose their children, get denied health benefits, and are forced to remain in poverty.”

API Chaya’s priorities continue to be access for all, prioritizing disability justice and language access, intergenerational soil building to end violence, and transformative justice, changing the tide for how we address and heal from harms in our communities. For API Chaya’s 25th Anniversary Vigil and March, the organization plans to organize a city-wide march with the Seattle Women’s Commission on International Working Women’s Day, Sunday, March 8, 2020. We welcome community members to partner with us on this important event. Please email [email protected] to partner or get involved.

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