The ‘revolutionary Aunties’


The Auntie Sewing Squad Guide to Mask Making, Radical Care, and Racial Justice

Edited by Mai-Linh K. Hong, Chrissy Yee Lau and Preeti Sharma (Oakland, Calif.: University of California Press, 2021, 288 pp., $24.95, paperback)

In every immigrant community, we can find skilled seamstresses and resourceful crafters. It’s a survival skill passed down in our lineages. What the Auntie Sewing Squad determined was how to channel those talents into a movement for mutual aid during a pandemic. Breaking it down into do-able tasks, mapping out teams of mask makers, connecting with vulnerable communities, nurturing self care and creating joy in the doing is pure brilliance. “The Auntie Sewing Squad Guide to Mask Making, Radical Care and Racial Justice” is a how-to grassroots community organizing tool to revel in.

How did it begin? “Before I became the Factory Overlord of the Auntie Sewing Squad — family, cult, labor camp, amateur medical supply company, shadow government aid agency — I was a performance artist,” quips Kristina Wong. She rallied her mom and friends, her aunties, to begin sewing masks for health care workers. They would sew until commercial masks became available, but as the word spread, the demand to serve vulnerable communities exploded, and the team of aunties had their work cut out for them.

“The Auntie Sewing Squad Guide” is a collection of essays and graphics by scholars, activists and artists sharing their reflections and experiences as part of the mask-making movement.

In “We Go Down Sewing,” the framework is broken down from the influence of the feminist movement, empowering women to create change, to the concept of mutual aid, providing aid in a coordinated way when a system is not working. Aunties are often honorary members of a family due to their caregiving roles. And the ones aspired to are the “revolutionary Aunties who have been understated caregivers serving the people.”

In “Auntie Sewing Squad Core Values,” transparency, passion, humor and kindness are the driving forces. As a sustaining value, they extend to the aunties, “appreciative care, primarily in the form of food and creature comforts suitable for life under a stay-at-home order.”

In “Sewing As Refuge,” we hear a visceral description from Mai Linh K. Hong, “What I know is in my body when sewing by hand, the tautness of deft, repeated movements, a callused finger. Or more often, the clamoring vibration of a metal-framed machine. … Practicing this skill my mother transmitted to me, I thought of all the things my parents had learned to do for themselves.”

In “Teaching Sewing, Teaching Care,” Grace Yoo shares the independent study summer course she developed at San Francisco State University to have students sew masks for vulnerable communities through the Auntie Sewing Squad. Teaching care, core Auntie qualities, she asked students to sew masks, to learn about vulnerable communities and to conduct research on the mask movement.

Kudos and deep reverence to the Auntie Sewing Squad for getting it done. Buy the book, share the lessons, sew a mask (using a pattern from the book), give it to others, and continue the movement!

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