This summer it has been a privilege to post the essays of our incredible and inspiring 2013 class of IGNITE Change Finalists from Boston GLOW’s Girls’ Leadership branch. These girls all have innovative and actionable plans to change their own communities and empower the females they know.
This year, the IGNITE Change Contest was thrilled to announce that we will be funding our top scoring essay. Essays were judged by a panel of 5 judges all empowered and successful women representing a cross-section of entrepreneurship and women’s leadership in Boston.
Today’s Real Girl Leaders blog presents the WINNING ESSAY of the 2013 IGNITE Change Leadership Contest. The winning essay comes from Huixian Li. She is 18, a recent graduate of Charlestown High School and from Chinatown.
Over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting the progress and implementation of Huixian’s inspirational idea to impact and empower the women of her community in Chinatown.
Please note: this is Huixian's original essay submission and some of the elements of her project may have changed during the course of actual project implementation.
Painting to Find Ourselves
by Huixian Li
I grew up in two environments: China and America. My parents moved to this country to give my siblings and me more educational opportunities. My dad tried his best to find a job outside of Chinatown because he was brave enough to join new communities. My mother, though, was afraid to speak with non-Chinese people. When my dad found a Boston apartment closer to his work insisted that we stay in Chinatown. She feels safer talking to Chinese people and staying in Chinatown. Another person in the same situation is my aunt. She and my uncle lived in downtown Boston for three months until my uncle left to China to work. My aunt moved back to China immediately. She did not feel secure when she could not see Chinese people in her community. Her daughter, who is my age, also stays in their Chinatown apartment and watches Chinese movies and plays Chinese video games. My male cousin, however, is a confident in English-speaking settings and works outside of Chinatown. When I ask my mother's female friends about life outside of Chinatown, they are silent. It seems that the women and girls of Chinatown are hesitant to leave the safety of Chinatown. While it may be more comfortable, there are many opportunities and services they are missing in our city.
The problems stem from Chinese tradition. In Confucian China, men focus on business and women are expected to tend to childcare, food preparation and housekeeping. The idea that Chinese women do domestic work has a deep foundation in 5,000 years of Chinese history. Even if a woman is exhausted from housework, a man thinks that this is common and expected. However if a woman prefers to have a job outside the household, others consider her a poor example and believe that her husband cannot "take care" of his family. Due to their pride, Chinese men believe they must be in charge of the families. If a Chinese woman face difficulty, her husband believes that it is his duty to overcome it for her. Gradually, women become more vulnerable and dependent on men even when they move to a new country.
I want to help the Chinese immigrant women and girls learn about Boston beyond Chinatown and expose them to American traditions while still making them proud of our community. I will draw on my art background and networks to paint a large 20' by 30' mural in the community with the women and girls of Chinatown. I will invite teacher and classmates who understand Chinatown to share more experiences and information with the volunteers. The Chinese women will learn more about Boston in a safe environment and meet like-minded women. One person may be afraid to step outside of Chinatown, but if these women become friends as they paint a mural, they build a network to explore new communities without the help of men.
I want to recruit strong women I have met in the non-Chinatown communities. I will invite MS. Zhang, a teacher who is also from the Chinatown community, because she knows about many immigrant resources through our school. I will also invite Ms. Wong a bilingual American-born-Chinese teacher, who knows about a lot of organizations in Boston. Most importantly, I will share my plan with my female friends and classmates because they are all Chinese immigrants and many of their mothers are also in my mother's situation. I have talked to all of these potential volunteers about the problems facing our community and I know they would be dedicated volunteers.
I also work at Artists for Humanity, a non-profit that encourages young artist to improve their communities. I believe that at least eight of my artist colleagues would also be eager volunteers who could show community members how to express themselves through painting. Finally, I will invite my two sisters who also grew up in Chinatown but now attend local universities. They both understand the importance of Chinatown and need to learn more about the rest of Boston. They can share their experiences to the younger girls new to the country. The diversity of volunteers would create a strong core. Encouraging every Chinese women and girl to listen to my point of view would be impossible but, as part of a team, I can reach more people and spread the message.
We will paint our mural at Josiah Quincy Upper School, a high school in Chinatown. A teacher who used to teach at JQUS told me that the school has wanted a mural for years. The mural will be 20' x 30' feet and will depict a large map of Boston with Chinatown in the middle. The map will label many Boston landmarks and will also have images of Chinese women and girls of all ages, and wearing different types of clothes from different eras, throughout Boston's different neighborhoods. The women on the Boston map will remind us that Chinese people belong everywhere in Boston, not just Chinatown. A project of this size will take an entire year to complete.
Before beginning to paint, I will buy the appropriate supplies As a cheaper base coat I will buy house paints in primary colors for a total cost of $117 (specific costs are described in my itemized list of costs) TO make the brighter colors stands out, I will also purchase some acrylics paints ($161) Finally, I will purchase a half gallon of primer to protect the final painting ($22). My mentor for Artists for Humanities, Sue helped me to select the appropriate colors, paints and prices when I told her about my idea. I will also purchase enough paintbrushes for all the volunteers ($120)
Under the direct of Artists for Humanities colleagues and me, the girls and women will meet every other Saturday from 7am until 11am to work on the mural. We will meet this early so that women who work in restaurants will have time to participate before work. For the first meeting, I will purchase $50 of Chinese food. One of my classmates works in her uncle's restaurant and she also believes that a mural would bring Chinese women together. Her uncle has said that he would donate $15 of food for a $50 purchase to support the project. For the next 12 meetings, I will spend $34 each Saturday to buy appropriate snacks such as dumpling ($34 worth of dumplings can roughly feed up to 50 attendees). After establishing ourselves, volunteers will take turns preparing basic foods each Saturday to build a sense of community.
I have also budgeted $30 to make up to 1000 photocopies. These copies will be of fliers identified by Ms. Zhang and Ms. Wong about institutions that may benefit the women of Chinatown. My teachers are willing to share their information, make copies and attend Saturday meetings to introduce these resources. My two college-aged sisters will also share similar information from their universities and can even tell stories about the college application process to girls applying to college. Since my sisters and my teacher will be sharing this information while we all work on painting, the women and girls will not feel as intimidated and will be more likely to ask questions.
Finally I want to spend $90 on speakers. I will set the speakers near the mural. The volunteers can choose their own music. Most of the Chinese women work in the restaurants and cannot listen to music while they work. Painting while listening to music will relax the volunteers and make them feel welcomed. They will have fun painting, get a healthy breakfast, learn important information, and build a network of like-minded women who may be more willing to explore Boston. AS the mural takes shape, more women and girls will be draw to the project and current attendees can invite their mothers, sisters, daughters and friends. All of them can take pride in making their own community more beautiful.
Everybody has their own habits. The women and girls in my community are afraid to explore Boston. However a little encouragement and the support of similar women can break this unfortunate habit. Women and girls in American do not need to depend on men. MY plan can help them a lot. In one year, volunteers will learn more about the rest of Boston and leave a lasting and meaningful 20' by 30' piece of art in Chinatown. Women and girls will be proud of themselves when they look at their large map, they will be reminded of their own strength and independence.
For more information on any of our Real Girl Leaders, the progress of this project or to learn how you can be involved in the IGNITE Change contest, contact AC Gaughen at email@example.com