The Feministing Five: Annie Fukushima

Annie Fukushima is a long time activist and academic. She’s been working around the issue of human trafficking and she’s a huge believer in the power of praxis– the combination of action and theory (especially interesting in light of this week’s post on the topic!). A PhD student at Cal Berkeley in the Ethnic Studies department, Fukushima has also worked at SAGE (Standing Against Global Exploitation) and founded Student and Artists Fighting to End Human Slavery (SAFEHS).

One particular area of interest for Fukushima is how the sex industry impacts women of color, noting that the discussions around the sex industry are often defined by Euro-American feminist perspectives. As a biracial Korean and Mexican woman growing up in Hawaii, Fukushima was inspired to work on this issue as a result of her own ancestral history of forced migration, specifically looking at the culture of hostess bars and the stereotype that all the hostesses were Korean.

She has a wealth of knowledge on the topic and enlightened me on everything from the history of the term “sex work,” the exclusion of women of color in the anti-trafficking movement in the ’60s and even the origins of purple for domestic violence awareness month.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Annie Fukushima.

Anna Sterling: How does race play into the work that you do?

Annie Fukushima: What you look like and how you’re perceived really impacts people. I had to be aware of that even though I identify as Mexican and I have that history. People may still racialize me as Asian speaking Spanish. You can’t have a raid on a massage parlor and not have advocates there from that community that really understand the situation. Say, for example, the people there were trafficked and advocates didn’t understand the politics of shame many women in the sex industry experience. The women won’t trust you and why should they?

It also plays a huge role in policy-making. The anti-immigration policies that have been going on recently such as SB1070 and what’s been going on in Alabama really affect the anti-trafficking movement. We have to put it in the context of this country’s long history of anti-immigration policies from 1880 to Chinese Exclusion onwards. It’s scary to see all that happening because that means if you are someone surviving something atrocious you’re even more vulnerable to staying in that situation.

Even the term “sex work” has become the framework people use but there’s a forgetting of who founded that term. It was a white madam in San Francisco named Carol Lee. There needs to be a critique of where the language we use to describe our experiences comes from. But regardless of what language we use to describe our experience, we need to come together for a common cause.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

AF: Nora Okja Keller is a fictional writer who wrote “Comfort Women” and “Fox Girl.” “Comfort Women” is a story about a mother who is a comfort woman survivor and her daughter, Beccah. Beccah’s not the survivor, but she’s the one that has to carry that history. She is my favorite fictional character because it gets at the responsibilities that daughters have and the tensions of them having to carry generational implications of trauma.

My real life hero would be my mom. She is an immigrant and had she not worked really hard and made difficult decisions I would not be here having these opportunities to do the work that I do. It’s not a life of privilege but in many ways it’s a privilege to be able to even choose.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

AF: They’re going to remove all these native people in Brazil to build another pathway that’s going to be bigger than the Panama Canal. When I read about that after it went viral, I was really sad.

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

AF: The issue of race, but more than saying we need intersectionality which, of course, is important for feminisms. I think we’re taking it for granted now. What does that mean to say something is intersectional? Yes, we acknowledge difference, but where do we move from there? There needs to be more work done in feminisms in addressing what aware and conscious collaborations would look like in the movement if we’re going to call feminisms a movement still.

AS: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

AF: Coffee because I drink it everyday and if there’s one legal addiction I have, it’s that. I would take bibimbap because rice is filling and you’d need that. For the feminist I would take my dissertation chair, Evelyn Nakano Glenn. She’s been incredibly supportive of my work.

Join the Conversation

  • Charlotte

    It’s a common tactic of anti-prostitution activists to imply that anyone arguing for sex worker rights is a “pimp” and therefore more interesting in exploiting the women actually seeing clients than they are respecting adult being’s autonomy. (Men working in the industry don’t usually receive acknowledgment unless it’s also as “pimps.”) Carol Leigh has written extensively about her work as a prostitute, including her rape while while working at an incall. It’s misleading to imply that she’s only compelled other people to have sex for money as opposed to doing so herself.

  • Heather Phillips

    I just registered in order to comment on the post, because as a frequent Feministing reader I was surprised by the tone of this interview. I wanted to reiterate what I take to be the sentiments of Charlotte above, by pointing out that in this interview Annie Fukushima is making some pretty clear anti-prostitution/prostitution abolitionist statements that are very contentious in contemporary feminist politics. Which is not to say they don’t have a place on the Feministing website (they do!) but it would have been nice to have seen them actually discussed, and recognized in the context of debates over sex work (or the use of that term – which Fukushima clearly disapproves of) rather than left rather glibly out there.

  • Jenn

    This article isn’t about the pros and cons of prostitution. It’s about Annie Fukushima. That’s why her views on prostitution aren’t discussed more. But to help clarify, Fukushima works in Anti-Trafficking. In her world, prostitution is almost exclusively a negative. Prostitutes she works with will almost exclusively have a pimp. In the world of human trafficking, “sex work” is pretty much always extremely negative.

    Sex as a commodity can be argued as empowering or oppressive, but one must certainly consider the context before shouting from the rafters one way or another.