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Wanting More and Finding Disability Justice

Mia MingusMia Mingus is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as an AAPI Women leader.

I have been politically active my whole life, being raised by a strong feminist community on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands that were working to respond to violence against women and children. We talked about oppression around the dinner table, helped stuff fundraising letters every year, went to protests and take back the night marches. Though I came out of my upbringing with a strong political analysis of oppression and violence, no one ever talked to me politically about disability and ableism.

I have been disabled since I was a baby. My childhood was spent wearing a brace that went from my heel to my hip for as long as I can remember until I was in college. I was in and out of hospitals having numerous surgeries, seeing doctors, physical therapists and brace makers, as well as different kinds of healers.

Disability was always framed as a sad or bad thing, as something unfortunate that happened to me, a tragedy, a flaw. My experience with the medical world was one about “fixing” me and making me more “normal” and less disabled. This of course, echoed my experience of the world at large. I never saw disabled women in the media being desired or living whole complex lives, let alone disabled women of color. The messages always boiled down to: disability is wrong and undesirable.

As a political activist I knew this was not right, but as a disabled person of color, there were not many messages telling me otherwise, even in social justice work. I looked to the disability rights movement, but rarely saw disabled people of color in leadership and in the racial justice, queer and feminist movements I was a part of the leadership was always able bodied people of color. In my early twenties I began to think, surely the same framework that had taught me to reject racist, sexist, ageist and homophobic messages the world told me about what it meant to be a young queer Asian woman, would also reject the message that disability was ugly and something to be pitied and cured.

Most of my work takes the form of educating communities about disability because disability is something that we are taught to know very little about. Most of my work has been in political movements for social justice and queer and trans, people of color and feminist communities, with fellow activists and organizers, pushing them to respectfully integrate a disability justice analysis in to their work and lives. Most people only know about disability from a very individual and medical understanding and have not connected disability to their work for justice and liberation. For many significant and important reasons, disability has been very segregated from others social justice movements. I work to change that.

Through my work on disability justice, I hope to create what I wish I had had when I was coming into political consciousness: a way of understanding myself. I hope to be a small part of the legacy of work that disability justice activists are carving out, so that young queer disabled girls of color can use our work and, undoubtedly, evolve it. After all, when I first found disability justice, it wasn’t even called “disability justice” yet.

I am truly humbled to be amongst so many other amazing Asian American and Pacific Islander women doing such important work in our communities. I see my work in concert and interdependent with their work and all of our work as necessary for true justice and liberation. Throughout my life, my work has taken different forms, but the roots of it have always been the same: justice and liberation for all of us, not just some of us.

Mia Mingus is a writer, organizer, and member of the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collaborative.