Amid the start of the pandemic and school shutdowns in the spring of 2020, a different movement was beginning: the birth of United Asian Advocates (UAA). While acting as a panelist for an organization called URGE (Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity), Aarthi Raghavachari – a fourth-year international affairs student – presented the idea for UAA, a group that would make space for the Asian community on campus.
"A group of [us] came together and thought 'Where is the collective Asian group on campus? We have a lot of specific groups, but where is that space for us?'" said third-year information systems student Mahathi Venkatesh.
Since last spring, UAA has developed a robust social media page, held events surrounding social justice and Asian culture and is currently planning its first Asian Cultural Week, held April 5-9.
The culture week will feature several different panels, aptly named with the acronym ASIAN. The panels are Arts and Fashion, Share Your Story, Inspire, Appetite and Night Show, the last of which will be presented at a local restaurant in Clifton.
"Since we are a big Asian organization, we have so many different countries and cultures represented," said Venkatesh. One goal of cultural week is to represent all of these cultures by celebrating food, dancing and customs from each culture.
Aashka Raval, a third-year business analytics student, says that the broadness of Asian culture is part of what makes UAA unique. In summer 2019, Ravel attended a retreat called Accelerating Social Justice, which featured an Asian-focused caucus intended to represent all the countries in Asia.
"In that caucus, even though we all looked different, we shared so many similar experiences, and it truly felt like we [were] connected," Raval said. "Before that retreat, I did not feel connected with my Asian identity. I always thought it's too broad to encompass all cultures." This experience inspired Ravel to make UAA an inclusive space: inviting people from all Asian cultures to share their stories and promote allyship in other marginalized groups.
"Oppressive systems rely on creating division," said Venkatesh. Rather than create power through gatekeeping, UAA stands on principles of community, open sharing and acceptance to create strength. Much of their allyship is done through social media, where they share infographics about the Black Lives Matter movement, the Indian Farmer Protests and more.
UAA is open to Asian and non-Asian students alike, as the need for allyship is increasing due to a rise in crimes against Asians. According to Stop AAPI Hate, Between March 19, 2020 and December 31, 2020, there have been over 2,808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate crimes from 47 states and the District of Columbia. These attacks are partly due to xenophobic rhetoric related to the pandemic, which has occurred on UC's campus.
"It's so important for people that aren't Asian to show up, and it's this idea of 'show up and shut up,'" said Venkatesh. Allyship can be complex, but Venkatesh's wordplay makes it simple: make an effort to attend the events UAA provides and then just listen.
Venkatesh says that allyship should be done primarily out of necessity for the safety of Asian people, but beyond that, engaging in Asian culture and supporting all diversity ultimately benefits everyone.
"Having Asian friends, supporting Asian arts, coming to our cultural week and seeing how Asian people live and experience life is a super important part of being empathetic and being an ally," said Venkatesh. "There's beauty in diversity and there's beauty in Asian stories and art, and that's why you should come."