Last March people all over the world found themselves shopping for the exact same item— protective face masks. As the reality of COVID-19 grew more somber and CDC guidelines grew clearer, the demand for facial coverings only grew stronger. Necessity is the mother of invention, and this gap in supplies led many people to pull out their sewing machines and make their own fabric masks.
Like every Women's History Month, this March celebrates women's achievements and contributions to society. But this March, those achievements and contributions have only grown in number from last year. One way women all over the country have protected their communities and families is by banding together and sewing fabric masks.
This is exactly how the Auntie Sewing Squad was started. Founded on March 24, 2020 by comedian Kristina Wong, the goal of the Auntie Sewing Squad is to connect women all over the world to make masks for essential workers due to the lack of masks provided by the federal government.
MSU's Gender Studies Program is leading the way and bringing Kristina Wong and the Auntie Sewing Squad to speak during the 2021 Women's History Month. The Gender Studies Program is hosting "Auntie Sewing Squad: Radical Care, Social Justice and Mask Making During COVID-19" virtually on March 31, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. Wong will be discussing how she made the Auntie Sewing Squad happen and more about the group in a virtual talk. The link to sign up for the event can be found here.
The Auntie Sewing Squad mirrors a lot of sewing networks formed during the pandemic, but a unique feature of this group is it is made up of predominantly women of color, queer women and non-binary people. The group brings a perspective to the table which people do not see on a daily basis.
The organization is well acquainted with the trials certain groups face based on race, socioeconomic status, sexual-minority status or gender. The group helps them gain representation and make an impact in a very special way by making the masks and donating them to marginalized groups in their communities.
Brain Tesch, a graduate assistant in the sociology department at MSU, wants students to know that just like Kristina Wong, they too can help out in different ways during a crisis.
"I think one of the hopes for the event that I have is for a lot of our students to see that you can be proactive and do other things to help out in a time of crisis," Tesch said. "For example, Kristina Wong was a comedian. Her comedy tour failed and she came up with this. So there are things you can do to kind of take control of the situation and help out."
Kimberly Kelly, the Gender Studies Program director here at MSU, is the organizer of the event. Kelly has extensive background experience researching women's efforts during COVID-19 and feels very strongly about this event.
Kelly conducted a study along with two other sociologists which revealed that many people experienced fear and frustration at their state and federal government's lack of planning. Kelly explained that many of the groups making homemade masks were fueled by this same frustration.
"A lot of folks we talked to had loved ones who were working in the medical fields and they wanted to do something to protect the people they loved. We started looking around and we found the Auntie Sewing Squad, which is Kristina Wong's network," Kelly said. "I hope that people realize just how much of a grassroots-level effort was made across this country during COVID-19 … And specifically in the case of Ms. Wong's, (we are) hoping that we can elevate and highlight all that women of color and non-binary people have made yet again in addressing disasters and crisis in this country."
Above all, Kristina Wong is an entertainer. Ashley Vancil-Leap, an instructor in the College of Arts & Sciences and Gender Studies Program, hopes she will incorporate comedy into the event.
"I hope this event is educational, informative and fun. I hope to learn a lot from her experiences, but as a comedian, I also hope she includes her humor. This has been a devastating year and I look forward to a little comedy and laughter to remind us of joy and happiness," Vancil-Leap said in an email.