In light of the harrowing news out of Atlanta this week, we spoke with Yves Tong Nguyen, an organizer with Red Canary Song 红莺歌 (@RedCanarySong), a grassroots collective of Asian sex workers & allies who push for for migrant justice, labor rights, and full decriminalization.
Extended show notes after the break. First, here are some groups to learn about and support:
0:00 – Yves tells us about herself and Red Canary Song, and why they push for decriminalization rather than legalization. Plus: the material conditions, transnational history, and political rights of massage workers, sex workers, and other low-wage workers; and Red Canary Song’s connection to Song Yang, a Chinese migrant sex worker killed during a police raid in Flushing in 2017.
18:15 – Yves’s criticism of anti-trafficking NGOs, most of which partner with the police; why arguing over the labels “sex worker,” “massage worker,” etc. distracts from a broader assessment of criminalization policies; the respectability politics of separating and ranking workers; and why massage workers have common cause with other low-wage migrant Asian workers in food, nail salons, and service and manufacturing.
“Whether or not they are sex workers, they were harmed by the criminalization of sex work”
29:30 – Long before Atlanta, workers in the massage industry experienced violence from neighbors, ICE, police, savior-complex NGOs, and clients. Yves responds to the argument that we need police to “protect” Asian communities.
“The system itself protects itself. It is white supremacy itself, and it is made to protect white supremacists.”
38:30 – What does “justice” look like in Atlanta? Is calling murder a “hate crime” or “terrorism” helpful? Plus: how migrant workers and sex workers have reacted to the news this week.
“I know that people really want to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, if we put them in prison, it’ll be justice. But then are we also owning that every member of our community put into prison is also justice?’”
43:30 – Yves’s surprise at the media attention this week—and frustration about the status quo of ignoring this industry. And how we should all do better.
50:50 – Does this week connect anti-Asian stigmatization during the pandemic? Plus: why blaming Trump and racist rhetoric is mostly unhelpful.
“People want to say that that is the problem, that that is the root. But really it is a symptom. Trump’s rhetoric and people saying this and doing this is a symptom of things that have existed for such a long time. But people want to say that Trump is the problem, because then they can be like, if we can get rid of Trump then it’s good.
“Which is partially what I fear. I think that people might stop caring and think that we’ve solved it until the next awful thing happens.
“When you asked me about what I would tell people to take away from it, I want us to stop building and organizing in reaction to when people die. I want us to organize to keep people alive.”
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