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Auntie Sewing Squad

By Dominic Mallari, PCS Intern
A woman stands and smiles in front of a projection; the image is of a group of women, smiling.
Kristina Wong in Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord at La Jolla Playhouse; photo by Jenna Selby/courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse.

In March 2020, performance artist/comedian Kristina Wong was getting ready to go on tour when Covid-19 shutdowns in the United States began and halted those plans. In response to the pandemic and the federal government’s failure to provide enough personal protective equipment to medical, frontline, and essential workers, Wong started sewing homemade masks. However, when requests turned from two or four masks to hundreds, she realized she would need a lot more help in order to meet these demands. Wong then started a Facebook group, looking for people who knew how to sew or were willing to learn. This group evolved into the Auntie Sewing Squad, officially founded on March 24, 2020, with Wong humorously adopting “Sweatshop Overlord” as her title. Since then, they have grown exponentially into a network of hundreds of “Aunties” of all ages and occupations across the country. 

In many cultures, “auntie” is used as a sign of respect and affection for women, even without familial relations. While most members are Asian-American women, there are also “Uncles” and non-binary volunteers, and members from a variety of ethnicities and races. Since everyone involved in the Auntie Sewing Squad is a volunteer, they are also supported by “Care Aunties,” who provide them with food, community activities (such as Zoom yoga classes), and more.

Over 504 days, the Aunties have shipped more than 350,000 masks all across North America. On August 15, 2021, the Aunties retired from sewing masks. Now that masks are mass-produced and more available, they can rest, but they recognize that the pandemic is still not over. The organization has not disbanded and it has moved on to other projects, such as working toward systemic change.

The Aunties wrote a book about their experiences, The Auntie Sewing Squad Guide to Mask Making, Radical Care, and Racial Justiceand collaborated with the Kronos Quartet on the film Radical Care: The Auntie Sewing Squad.

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