The Making of Asian & Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Task Force: A Family Story
To-wen Tseng, San Diego, California
Editor’s Note: Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Breastfeeding Week is the third week in August. The 2021 theme is Reclaiming Our Tradition. For more information, go to the Asian & Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Task Force Facebook page at www.facebook.com/APIBTF.
I am a lucky mother. I had a life-changing postpartum experience with my first child, Jade. With my second child, Jasper, I had an exceptional, rewarding prenatal experience.
Let me start with Jasper. During the nine months prior to his birth, I wrote a best-selling book and helped found a cultural breastfeeding coalition named Asian Breastfeeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles (which later became Asian & Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Task Force, APIBTF), both while growing a human inside of me.
I liked to tell baby Jasper, “You’re a triplet. This book is one of your siblings. The other one is the API Breastfeeding Task Force.”
When enough years had gone by to enable him to understand my work, I told him stories about how he went to the first planning meeting of APIBTF (in my belly); how he attended all the APIBTF events with me in the following two years; how he modeled for the APIBTF’s breastfeeding photo project. I showed him all the photos, told him how he grew with the Task Force, and he seemed to be very proud of that. Recently, he started to boast about his contribution to the founding of APIBTF.
But Jade, who is four years Jasper’s senior, said that the events that led to the founding of APIBTF started long before Jasper was born. Jade said it began the summer I went back to work after giving birth to him, when my rights to pump at work were denied by my then employer.
Jade was right. At that time, I was a staff writer at a Chinese-language newspaper in Los Angeles. I sat on the floor in a bathroom stall to pump breastmilk for then three-month-old Jade while my colleagues went to the bathroom, pounded on the door, and occasionally complained about me occupying the stall. It was the only outlet I could find in a private location since there wasn’t a nursing room available. When I talked to my supervisor, she told me to quit breastfeeding because formula-fed babies were healthier. When I was tempted to wash my pump parts in the kitchen, some colleagues mocked me for washing my dirty panties in the office. When I talked to the human resources department, they said they were not aware of the breastfeeding laws.
That pumping rights argument culminated in a case settled by Legal Aid at Work (then Legal Aid Society—Employment Law Center). I then quit my job as a full-timereporter and became a breastfeeding activist. I still worked as a freelance writer to pay my bills, but I spent a big chunk of my time volunteering for local breastfeeding coalitions. Four years later, I joined a group of like-minded individuals and founded APIBTF.
And that was only the beginning of the story. In spite of the monetary compensation that my previous company agreed upon, the newspaper was apparently not convinced by the ruling—it published two Op-Ed pieces, one calling breastfeeding images “disturbing” and“disgusting”, while the other one suggested that breastfeeding accommodations at work were “not necessary.” The first article gave me an idea of launching a breastfeeding photo project to fight this kind of hate speech and normalize breastfeeding in Asian communities, and the idea became the first major project of APIBTF.
The Task Force’s most recent initiative is AANHPI Breastfeeding Week. Last year, with BreastfeedLA, we lobbied to have a specific week to engage API breastfeeding families, advocates, and health workers,and received a local resolution from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors proclaiming the third week of August as Asian and Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Week. This year, with support from the United StatesBreastfeeding Committee (USBC), we made it a national event with the theme “Reclaiming Our Tradition” and included Native Hawaiians. This time, Jade created the artwork for AANHPI Breastfeeding Week’s logo so that he can boast about it to his little brother.
I think the best part of my breastfeeding activism is that it is a family thing. My children inspired me to advocate for breastfeeding; I’m raising them to become the next generation of advocates. In this very first national AANHPI Breastfeeding Week, as a mother of Asian descent who breastfed against all odds, I feel that I have every right to celebrate my breastfeeding journey. And celebration is always more fun when you celebrate with loved ones and those who share the same experience and values with you. Happy AANHPI Breastfeeding Week, from my family to yours!
Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].
Supporting Breastfeeding Families–Today, Tomorrow, Always
Please consider donating to La Leche League USA.
Donations of any amount are gratefully accepted. Thank you!
Follow us on: