A Voice For Change

By Rachael Chen

During this time I feel so powerless, but art has given me a voice. Inspired by the news surrounding COVID-19 and my personal memories, I illustrated a work about how mono-lidded eyes have been stereotyped. I created and shared my artwork in hopes that other Asian Americans would not feel alone in experiencing racism and discrimination. I posted it on my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts and I was encouraged by the response when I received over 200 likes and 30 shares from friends, family, and complete strangers. With the strength I gained from peoples’ support, I plan on continuing creating art that reflects my experience in the world and how the world presents itself to me.

"During this time I feel so powerless, but art has given me a voice."

Artwork by Rachael Chen

You would think that the COVID-19 pandemic would be enough to deal with, but apparently it was not and xenophobia spread along with it. In The New York Times article “The Slur I Never Expected to Hear in 2020,” Cathy Hong writes about how quickly Asians and Asian Americans were spat on, kicked, and alienated as a reaction to people calling COVID-19 the “Chinese/Wuhan flu.” Reading this article was a stark reminder of how “Asian-Americans have always lived a conditional existence in which belonging is promised as long as we work harder at being good” (Hong 1). This reminded me of the discrimination and hate that has been directed towards me throughout my life being Asian American. People being racist/discriminatory towards me denied the fact that I am American and that I never fit into the model minority myth. The model minority myth is the racist idea that Asian Americans are the most compliant, especially when compared to other Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). Believing in this idea contributes to the systematic racism against Black people and further divides BIPOC. 

Before, I had never found art inspiration through being Asian-American until being stuck home due to the pandemic. I have always been taught through discrimination that people like me never quite belonged, but I learned so much through watching PBS documentaries and reading stories about the Asian-American experience. What I envision is to share art and music as a reminder of how important my and other BIPOCs’ voices are during this time.

Composers Chen Yi, Yuko Uebayashi and Hi Kyung Kim

"I started delving into my heritage through music by reaching out to a friend who shared a collection of music composed by female East-Asian composers."

I started delving into my heritage through music by reaching out to a friend who shared a collection of music composed by female East-Asian composers. I found a growing interest in performing works by Chen Yi, Hi Kyung Kim, and Yuko Uebayeshi. My plan is to perform them in the future and raise awareness about Asian-American identities through sharing the voices of Asian composers while educating myself about Asian-American history. Because of the racism I experienced throughout my life, I didn’t have an interest in my heritage as an Asian-American. Before this year, I created artwork that focused on issues most people of any background can relate to, but none that explicitly came from my heritage. With music, I want to encourage others to become more interested in their ethnic background.

Starting this June,  I have been giving free 30-minute flute lessons over video chat to interested students from the public school near me. I was inspired to take this action because many families are experiencing sudden financial insecurities and private music lessons may often be one of the first things parents stop providing to their child. Additionally, I am offering it to students who have always wanted to take lessons but were never financially able to even before the pandemic. I hope that in the future when I have my own private studio, I can give a few students free or reduced rate lessons through grant writing and fundraising. This is part of why I am interested in arts management and making the arts accessible. 

"I was inspired to take this action because many families are experiencing sudden financial insecurities and private music lessons may often be one of the first things parents stop providing to their child."

As unrest in the world has erupted with protests, I am expressing my voice and supporting others’ through working on a fundraising event in support of the Black Lives Matter and organizations that support resource building in communities. June 20 is my birthday and it just so happens that I will also turn 20 years-old. I will be sharing the 20-20-20-20 fundraiser on my social media accounts and encouraging people to support several organizations that support BLM and the need for ethnic studies in schools. After they have donated and shared their receipts with me,  I will create a personalized door sign just for them with their name on it if they donate $20. If someone donates $20 to two separate organizations ($40 in total), I will make a sign plus share a video of me playing a two-minute piece on the flute along with giving personal thanks. It’s important to me that there is funding provided to organizations that do work in support of Black Lives Matter. 

"I have always wanted to use my art as a place for people to find beauty in their vulnerability and gain more inspiration in using art to voice their beliefs."

Artwork by Rachael Chen

I have always wanted to use my art as a place for people to find beauty in their vulnerability and gain more inspiration in using art to voice their beliefs. To me, part of being an artist and arts advocate is becoming informed about our heritage and the world around us through education. Although fulfilling general education requirements can take up a lot of time, taking classes such as Ethnic American Literature, African History, and College Writing has exposed me to stories beyond the ones I relate to. Everything we are exposed to becomes a learning opportunity.

I hope to work with other artists and bring about positive change through making the arts accessible. My friends who have come from a school with a failing arts program often have to pay extra tuition to take art classes outside of school. An accessible and high-quality arts education is so important now. Art gives us a unique voice and allows us to speak about humanity or the lack thereof. Art is empowering, which is why I am so passionate about pursuing my Arts Management Campus Certificate with Arts Extension Service. This is why I continue to create and share art.


Rachael Chen is a UMass Amherst rising junior who is a music performance major that is in the process of completing the Arts Extension Service’s Arts Management Certificate. Additionally, she plans on beginning her certificate in Asian-American Studies this Fall 2020 semester. Some of her experiences and achievements include performing as principal flute with the UMass Symphony Orchestra, playing piccolo with the Music House International orchestra under the direction of Kensho Watanabe, receiving honorable mention at the 2019 UMass Symphony Orchestra Concerto/Aria Competition, and receiving silver and gold keys from Scholastic Art and Writing.