While community support services for survivors and witnesses of violence are widely available in the United States, specific attention to the country’s diverse cultural and linguistic needs continues to be in short supply. Asian Women’s Shelter (AWS), based in San Francisco, CA, has for more than 20 years provided survivors of violence and their communities with vital programs that address domestic violence and human trafficking. AWS works with survivors from across the Bay Area, United States, and Pacific territories, paying particular attention to the cultural and linguistic needs of immigrants and refugees from West, South, Southeast, and East Asia.
Since 2006, we have been collaborating with AWS to integrate digital storytelling with the agency’s Multilingual Outreach Project. We began with an orientation workshop for AWS staff, as a way to determine appropriate methods for conducting sessions with Multilingual Language Advocates and former AWS clients from throughout the United States. For each of five subsequent workshops, AWS staff coordinated special orientation meetings via teleconference and/or in person, to build relationships with storytellers, convey the value of personal storytelling, and address questions about privacy and confidentiality. We then led hands-on production workshops for women, who told stories in Arabic, Cantonese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Mandarin, Mien, Thai, Urdu, and other languages. Special attention was paid to ensuring anonymity where desired.
The resulting stories illustrate the resilience and wisdom of women who have escaped from abusive relationships, negotiated long journeys to find a new home in the United States, and confronted xenophobia and insensitivity from intimates and institutions. With the permission of storytellers, AWS is sharing the videos in the context of its support groups/counseling sessions and as part of trainings for incoming Multilingual Language Advocates, other non-AWS service providers, and members of the general public, to raise awareness about issues of violence in Asian and Pacific Islander communities.