Ramya and Alice: REPRESENT MVMNT

Tell us a bit about yourself and your life! What led you to creating REPRESENT MVMNT?   

Hi everyone! Our names are Jinyang (Alice) Zhang and Ramya Arumilli, and we are the founders of REPRESENT. We are both high school sophomore activists from the Seattle area. Both of us have experienced discrimination ever since elementary school, so we understand the pain racism causes. But the tipping point was in history when we were discussing slavery and how it impacts the lives of African Americans today. This brought up the issue of racism and Eurocentrism, which made us think back to our experiences and thus brought us together to start REPRESENT.

What was your relationship with your identity like; what did it mean to you at the time? How has your relationship with your identity changed over time, what has that meant to you now, and how did this affect REPRESENT MVMNT?

REPRESENT co-founder Ramya as a child.

REPRESENT co-founder Ramya as a child.

Ramya: Growing up, I had always wanted to be normal, which I thought resided in American culture. This led me to push away my Indian heritage. Throughout elementary school, I refused to wear traditional clothing, was uncomfortable to speak in Telugu, and reluctant to discuss my culture and traditions with my friends. Going back to India in the midst of this confusion, I realized that my culture and being able to connect with my family is worth so much more than fitting into the narrow perception of normalcy in the West. It has taken me years to realize that I don’t have to choose my nationality over my ethnicity, or vice versa. I can be both. And I am. I’m Indian-American and finally proud of my heritage.

Today, my ethnicity is one of the biggest parts of my life. Being able to speak Telugu fluently, understand cultural references, and the ability to fluidly interact with people in India are things that I am extremely proud of. India is as much of a home to me as the U.S. is. Though I have learned to appreciate my heritage, having a woman who looks like me and has dealt with similar experiences to look up to, such as Jameela Jamil, while growing up would have made the entire process easier. Eurocentrism is partially responsible for the inner turmoil many face when attempting to fit into American society, especially as children. I believe that the situations influenced by Eurocentrism [that] I, and many others, have faced and continue to face are entirely preventable, which is why I started REPRESENT with Alice.

REPRESENT co-founder Alice as a child.

REPRESENT co-founder Alice as a child.

Alice: I had a struggle with my identity also. When I moved to the United States, I was one of the only immigrant children in my elementary school. I was bullied. A white boy wrote “CHING CHONG” on my 5th-grade yearbook with a slanted eye emoticon drawn next to it. I have always been “different” ever since I moved to America, but that was the first time I was directly hit in the face with discrimination. Little 9-year-old me didn’t know what “ching chong” meant, but I knew it wasn’t a compliment after seeing the slanted eye face.

After that, I forced myself to only listen to American singers, movies, and TV. I only spoke English, even at home. I disconnected myself from my family. I dreaded to go back to China. I erased my identity. Two words made me lose who I am. But ever since I have gotten more into activism and reflected on my past, I have started to tape back the broken glass of my identity. I am now extremely proud to be Chinese, and I believe no one should have to go through what I went through. That is one of the main reasons why I wanted to start REPRESENT.

What's the mission behind your brand?

We are a youth-led organization that strives to promote diversity while reducing Eurocentrism stemming from the media and education system. Our belief is that children absorb many aspects of their environment, so by increasing representation and education regarding ethnic minorities, the next generation will be more accepting. Through education, representation, and creating a discussion surrounding this issue, we hope to do our part in making society better for POC.

Alice Zhang, co-founder of REPRESENT.

Alice Zhang, co-founder of REPRESENT.

How does the world affect your goals or what you hope to achieve?  

Our society’s way of thinking and actions have played a major part in the development of our goals for REPRESENT. The negatives we see around us and have grown up being affected by have contributed to our social media campaigns. #ByeEurocentrism, for example, targets ignorance by sharing the stories and issues of POC. We not only think getting POC together to stand up against Eurocentrism is important, but also connecting with the other side and those we are on the tipping point on how they feel about racism or are uninformed about it is important. We need to build trust.

To you, why is diversity important?

Diversity gives each individual the opportunity to truly be themselves, without any hindrances. It allows them to explore their heritage and display it proudly. It can also bring people together. The similarities and differences evident through diversity permits people to relate to others from across the world. It also brings up fresh perspectives than can be a complete 180 from the way someone else thinks.

What tips do you have for young WOC aspiring entrepreneurs?

Ramya Arumilli, co-founder of REPRESENT.

Ramya Arumilli, co-founder of REPRESENT.

In general, the most important thing is to visualize what your long term, or end goals are, because they will help motivate you to keep working harder every day. Whenever we come across a difficulty in REPRESENT, we imagine what it could mean for children to feel accepted in schools or represented in the media. We think about what this kind of organization would have meant to us as children facing conflicts with their identity while growing up. Finding a team that is passionate about your organization and your vision is also crucial to building your organization up, especially when you can’t do it alone. We have a team of 14 motivated, enthusiastic youths who are amazing additions to REPRESENT.

Specifically for young WOC, remember that you have a voice. Your voice should not be looked down upon or ignored. Young people, women, and POC are often ignored because people think we don’t know what we are talking about. Remember that that is not true even if people tell you that. Use your voice to stand up for what you believe in.

You can find out more about REPRESENT MVMNT on their Instagram.

Gretta Kissell