Josie Natori lends support against domestic violence, human trafficking

Phoenix Awards honoree Josie Natori (far right) with NYAWC Executive Director Larry Lee and Board Chair Karen Elizaga

Phoenix Awards honoree Josie Natori (right) with NYAWC Executive Director Larry Lee and Board Chair Karen Elizaga

By Maribelle Biscocho-Omar

The New York Asian Women’s Center celebrated 33 years of unifying and empowering women in combating domestic violence. The organization presented the Phoenix Awards to fashion designer and CEO Josie Natori of The Natori Company at a gala event on October 6.

“Asian women really end up getting the short end of the stick in terms of how people see their needs,” said Larry Lee, the executive director of NYAWC, in his speech. “Because of our cultures, issues like domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault and elder abuse are really unrecognized in our culture. A lot of people think (they) don’t exist. So, that if somebody is hit, they think it can be excused. So, we need a specialization to help our women because they have the greatest need but also as we work with them, we are finding out different ways to deal with them in a better way.”

The NYAWC advocates for Asian women who are victims of domestic abuse. Often, the abuse also affects young children. The organization reports that 1 in 5 children report witnessing their mothers being abused and/or being abused themselves.

“We are one of the few domestic violence agencies that has worked to stop the cycle of violence, and for the past 20 years, its Children and Youth Program has helped young survivors who have witnessed or experienced domestic violence and/or sexual abuse to find hope and strength through counseling, the arts, and a vibrant mentorship program,” NYAWC said in a statement.

Yanfei Shen, who is the Legal Services Manager and the supervising staff attorney at NYAWC, explained the assistance they provide.

“A lot of them either don’t have status or they are on two-year green cards so they have conditional residence,” Shen told The FilAm. “We basically help them with immigration applications. For a domestic violence survivor who is married to a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, we will do self-petitions for them. If they have that two-year conditional green card, we will do a battered spouse waiver. If they’re not married to a citizen or a permanent resident but they are a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking or another crime, we can (apply them for) a U visa. And if they are a victim of trafficking, we can do a T visa.”

As this year’s Phoenix Awards recipient, Josie Natori said she is fortunate to come from a matriarchal Filipino family which believes that women are equal to men.

“I actually think the Philippines is a matriarchal society. In fact, one of the few matriarchal societies we have,” she told The FilAm.

Natori shared how her upbringing enabled her to rise from a middle-class background all the way to New York’s finance industry. She took a leap of faith by leaving Wall Street and trying her creative and entrepreneurial skill as a fashion designer. Over the years, society has made progress in bridging the gap between men and women in terms of opportunities, she asserted.

“Of course, there are still more ways to go but honestly, I think there’s more opportunities today than there was even then. I never thought there was any limitation so women should not focus on what they can’t do. If you work hard, you can achieve it,” she said.

Natori, who served as a commissioner on the White House Conference on Small Business, said she is honored to receive the award. “I look forward to continuing to partner with them to eradicate human trafficking and empower women survivors and their families to move forward and thrive.”

The dinner gala managed to raise $358,000 for the organization, said Karen Elizaga, chair of NYAWC’s Board of Directors.

“As I watch the work of our staff from the sidelines, I am consistently amazed by their passion and creativity, as they have expanded programming to include the life cycle of violence from childhood to elder abuse, as well as human trafficking and sexual assault,” said Elizaga, who is also a Filipino American.

As a matter of fact, two other Filipinas aside from Natori and Elizaga played key roles during the dinner gala. Television journalist Nina Pineda emceed the program, and Broadway actress Emy Baysic rendered a musical number.

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