Wow, has it really only been a year? (Plus 3 months…) Unified Asian Communities, better known as UAC, came onto the scene a little over a year ago and we really hit the ground running.
Humble Beginnings: The Origins of Unified Asian Communities
At the end of 2020, a small group of dedicated individuals came together during a time of distress to figure out what they could do. Over the past year, we forged strong community partnerships with other organizations and groups of people who work tirelessly to make Maine a better place for all of us. We were able to meet our neighbors and reflect on what type of community we wanted to build. As a totally volunteer-run organization, we were definitely building this plane as we flew it.
UAC was truly born out of our passion to help others and a lot of time, thought, and energy went into creating every part of the organization that you see today. During our first few months, we met regularly and talked about our core values and goals. Together, we came up with our mission, vision, and bylaws. We decided which services we could provide to the public, based on our different skill sets and networking abilities.
Next up: Branding. We asked ourselves what symbols we believe represent our intentions and decided to incorporate a lotus flower because of its deep and special meaning in so many Asian cultures. A lotus flower typically grows in swampy, murky water, and produces clean and beautiful petals despite the muddy surroundings. Lotuses represent strength and resilience in the face of immense challenges and pain. They represent hope when times feel hopeless. The pandemic, with all of its difficulties and heartache, was the murky swamp, and we hoped that our organization could help people rise out of these dirty waters and step into their power. We worked with a graphic designer to create our logo, and from there, we set up our emails, built our website, and joined the world of social media. UAC decided to do a “soft launch” in December 2020 and began connecting with local groups to see how we fit into the community service landscape.
We officially launched in January 2021 and are extremely grateful for the guidance from the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC), one of our very first community partners and funders. UAC was the lucky recipient of four different grant awards from three organizations, totaling roughly $10,000 of grant funding that went toward UAC’s operating costs. (Thank you Maine Initiatives, Portland Public School Food Fund, and LL Bean!) As COVID-19 continued to impact our communities, we threw ourselves headfirst into supporting members with their highest needs.
Our Year of Community Service
The pandemic made in-person events more risky, which led to people struggling with isolation and getting access to important supplies, information, and services. So many community members, especially our Asian elders, were unable to go to the grocery stores. We worked with incredible local organizations like Chia Sen Restaurant and Wayside Food Program to get people culturally appropriate food and supplies. To combat this, UAC launched a number of community service projects and civic engagement initiatives.
Our member-led initiatives in 2021 included:
Supporting 40 community members with notarizations, unemployment claims, immigration issues, and various legal matters
Coordinating scheduling and transportation for COVID-19 test referrals and vaccination appointments for over 400 community members
Providing cultural brokers, who gave over 400 hours of their time to help our community members with real-time interpretation and translation at their appointments to ensure they could effectively communicate their needs as well as safely understand the health information provided.
Handing out 42 hot meals to folks during two “meal train” events, where our volunteers and Chia Sen’s owner, Jen Wu, met in the Chia Sen parking lot to hand out take-out boxes and Lunar New Year gifts to people through their car windows
Distributing 210 community baskets full of groceries and essential items to local community members in partnership with Wayside Food Program
Curating special groceries and gifts for 25 holiday baskets and delivering them to our community members
Our Year of Civic Engagement
To promote information sharing during times of isolation, UAC hosted some virtual events with the public, where we discussed the COVID-19 vaccine, mental health, and the rise in Anti-Asian violence across Maine and the nation. The virtual events we hosted in 2021 were:
Two Health Roundtables with Dr. Nirav Shah, the Director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control, where members of our community were able to meet with Dr. Shah and ask them whatever questions they had about vaccine efficacy, different strains of the virus, traveling after vaccination, and a variety of other topics.
A Mental Health Roundtable with our partners, San and Jessica Pao, both Licensed Mental Health Clinicians who led a deep discussion about mental health during the pandemic.
An at-home crafting party in partnership with Moms Demand Action Maine and The Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine (CAFAM) to celebrate Chinese culture amidst a rise in anti-Asian violence and gun violence.
Asian Americans had to endure another layer of this pandemic: increased anti-Asian rhetoric and becoming the scapegoat for COVID-19 and all the painful things associated with it, like death, job loss, and poverty. After a year of attacks against Asian elders and the senseless murder of six Asian women in Atlanta, UAC stepped up to support Maine’s Asian communities by:
Launching a GoFundMe for a Cambodian woman in Portland who was harassed for being Asian and whose car got damaged during the frightful incident, which raised over $3,000 for the victim and her family to get their car fixed and to get the support they needed to cope with the event.
Hosting two Active Bystander Intervention training sessions with our friends at Prevention. Action. Change., where participants learned to recognize different forms of identity-based harassment and gained the tools to intervene safely and effectively.
Organizing an in-person food truck festival at Thompson’s Point as a meet-and-greet event where all members of the UAC family could get to know each other, support their local businesses, and celebrate Asian joy.
Finding Our Voice & Continuing to Grow
Throughout the year, our team was fortunate enough to be featured in some news articles, segments, and podcasts. (Check them out here!) We didn’t initially see ourselves as activists when we started this organization but we quickly realized our position as representatives of our community and understood our responsibility to advocate for them.
UAC’s biggest event last year was the candlelight vigil we held with the Immigrant Welcome Center and Portland Public Schools. Over 300 people attended the vigil to honor the Asian lives lost to senseless acts of violence. Volunteers from the community kept us socially distanced and handed out masks, hand sanitizer, and candles (shout out to Maureen, Jen, Ninaka, Joshua, Kosal, and Ed). Huge thanks to Bassline Entertainment and Headlight AV for stepping up last minute to set up our stage and audio, allowing us to be seen and heard.
Our speakers moved us with their words as they spoke about the difficult truths of anti-Asian racism and its long history in the US. They shared their stories and their poetry, and they inspired us with their words of hope and compassion. Students from local schools held up posters showing us the faces of those we lost, and they read their names out loud and told us about their lives. The students reminded all of us that they were more than their jobs, they were more than their race and gender, they were full, complex people who had families and loved ones that miss them and mourn their deaths.
After the vigil, and after the news trucks all drove away and the headlines moved on, UAC resumed planning initiatives with local community organizations to support and advocate for Asians in Maine. We hope to continue learning as individuals, using our platform to amplify the voices of our community members, and having difficult, but crucial, conversations with our neighbors.
We thank you for welcoming us into your neighborhoods and showing us what real community means. Please (re)introduce yourself to us by getting involved with UAC and subscribing to our mailing list. We are always looking for volunteers, as well as ideas/suggestions for how we can best serve our community’s needs. And if you are able, please consider making a donation to our organization by clicking here. Our work is totally dependent on your donations! Please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!