The beautiful ethnic dresses drew Arwen Davé in, causing her to linger in the lobby before continuing to her appointment at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Clara.
Seven colorfully robed mannequins were lined up in a row along a ground floor corridor. Each dress represented the traditional clothing of a woman from a different immigrant culture.
A deep pink Indian saree (sari) with gold thread. An embroidered white blouse over a blue sampot (skirt) from Cambodia. A high-necked, red satin, Chinese cheongsam (or qipao) embellished with dragons. An orange áo dài with flowers from Vietnam.
“The exhibit is so beautiful. I thought it might be different kinds of wedding dresses,” said Davé, a Sunnyvale resident.
There is a salmon-colored hanbok dress with a cream jacket from Korea. A Filipiniana dress in red, blue, gold and silver, hand-decorated with hundreds of sequins. A hand-woven, embroidered cotton huipil rojo from Mexico.
“Then I started reading the signs and realized the display is about domestic abuse,” continued Davé.
Beside each traditional dress is the personal story of a Bay Area woman who, after coming to California from another country, endured domestic abuse and violence—often for many years—before finding help and escaping. Each woman’s story is written in her native language with an English translation.
“The women’s statements are so powerful that they drew me back,” said Davé, who returned for a second look after her appointment.
“Reading their words makes me feel how helpless they felt, just wanting [the abuse] to be a secret, and everyone hopes it will just go away,” said Davé.
“I’ve been withdrawn because of the pandemic and stopped looking into people’s faces, but [viewing this exhibit] will make me start again,” she said. “After this, I will look into the faces of women I pass and think, ‘What kind of day are you really having and can my smile make a difference?'”
The traveling clothesline installation at the Santa Clara KP Medical Center Oct. 7 – Jan. 14, 2022, is sponsored by Asian Americans for Community Involvement. View the dresses and stories of domestic abuse survivors online at “I Dare to Air.” To reach the AACI domestic abuse 24/7 Hotline call (408) 975-2739.
“I’m glad they have this exhibit so women can see what their choices really are,” said Davé.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor is a column where we casually interview people we meet in Silicon Valley. The column hopes to highlight what makes the South Bay special — the people who live, work and play here.