Doris Ho-Kane

Doris Ho-Kane is the founder of an Instagram account called 17.21women, a reference to the 17.21 million square miles covered by the continent of Asia. She is a first generation Vietnamese American, born to refugee parents who were boat people. Ms. Kane is originally from Dallas, TX but moved to New York City almost 16 years ago for art/design school (Fashion Institute of Technology) and never left. She worked in fashion for over a decade, doing everything from apparel design to brand curation to visual merchandising.

How did 17.21Women come to be?
About three years ago, I had an idea to start a fashion magazine geared towards Asian (American) women. It was in the development stage but sputtered out as I was a one-person operation and I just had a baby. When Trump was elected, the dormant activist-feminist in me was awakened with such a powerful jolt—I had to fight back. "It's a marathon, not a sprint", right? I decided to start something visually impactful, personal, and sustainable. I revisited that idea I had in 2014, but instead of focusing on fashion, I wanted to shine a light on extraordinary Asian women throughout history; game changers. I needed a medium that was more immediate and that would cast a further reach, so I started posting to Instagram.

What's next for 17.21Women?
It will remain a visual outlet of my curated research; a place to share stories of these amazing, oft-forgotten Asian American and Asian diasporic women in history. Separate from the Instagram account (but related in subject matter), I am in the early stages of establishing a nonprofit here in New York City.

As a very long-term goal (and a huge undertaking), I dream about establishing an institute and archive that houses a collection of API ephemera, a non-circulating library where people could easily access historical documents and information that may have fallen through the cracks. It would also continue to record and preserve history through action and events at or related to the archive center. A comprehensive online database would accompany it as well. It can get tricky gaining access to museum or university archives, and there are so many different subject matters within the API realm that are stored and scattered across the world. Centralizing everything and making it easy for anyone to access this important information would be the big goal.

How are you a progressive?
I am a resister of the status quo. I believe in equal rights and equal access for everyone. EVERY. ONE. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Who inspires you?
My mom, Hoàng Oanh. She is the sticky rice that holds my family together. She sacrificed everything for her five children, and she continues to be a powerful presence and influence in our lives and her grandchildren's. 

What was the best advice someone gave you?
One of my extraordinary sisters, Đào, sent me this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, and it's something I read every day: "Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't."

If you could ask Trump one thing, what would it be?
How do you sleep at night? I don't know, actually. Would he even field a question from a Vietnamese American feminist? 

What's your favorite movie quote? 
It's a quote from one of my least favorite movies (They Live), but it works in so many life situations: "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I'm all out of bubblegum."

Fun facts:

  • I've been vegetarian for more than half of my life.
  • I was a freak and a geek in high school (a punk rock, AP student) and was voted "Most Unique" by my peers.
  • I have exceptional facial recognition skills—I never forget a face. Is there such a thing as a photographic memory of faces?