Renouveau Media got the opportunity to interview Riya Goel, co-founder of Asians Lead, a youth-based nonprofit that aims to Redefine, Inspire, Create, and Educate (RICE). We caught up with the student activist to chat about activism, thoughts, goals and much more.
Iuliana: Hey Riya! How are you? How have you been coping with quarantine lately?
Riya: I’m good! Quarantine is definitely a new experience for everyone, and I think that the best way to handle and cope with it is to really take it one day at a time. To be honest, being inside is a little frustrating, but it is really a privilege to be able to quarantine and stay inside, so I am trying to make the best of it by self-investing and catching up on some pending work! I also think it’s so important to find a creative outlet, and for me that is so many things, from cooking and trying new recipes all day to even writing.
Iuliana: So you co-founded Asians Lead, a youth-based nonprofit that aims to Redefine, Inspire, Create and Educate. What were some logistics behind how the organization came to life? What inspired you to start it?
Riya: Growing up Asian, and specifically in a community where there were not that many Asians, I always felt like I had to hide my culture and traditions, and I was often made fun of because of my Indian lunch at school, or the way that I dressed. I never really had a community of Asians growing up that I could identify with, and because of how other people reacted to my culture, I’ve always been ashamed of being Indian, and celebrating who I am. These experiences are really what inspired me to start Asians Lead.
Iuliana: What are the next goals that the organization wishes to achieve? What should we expect?
Riya: Asians Lead is really looking to continue expanding on our RICE acronym, to Redefine, Inspire, Create and Educate. We want to start by de-stigmatizing conversations, providing content to educate our friends, family, and community, and resources to enable our following to do so.
Iuliana: Could you tell us the values, ideas, and attitudes which best describe yourself as a student activist?
Riya: I think that intersectionality and perspective are the two words that can best describe myself as an activist. There are countless intersectionalities for every single broader issue, from feminism to environmental justice. Keeping in mind that there are so many other perspectives, and ways of looking at a particular issue keeps one in check in a way, and allows for us to be advocates for ourselves and others.
Iuliana: Many people have a picture of activism that features protests and speeches. What are the things involved that most people don’t know about?
Riya: That’s a really good question. Protests are effective, but they’re a one time occurrence without much follow up. I’d say organization, communication and outreach are the three main things that go on behind this facade. There is immense planning, group calls, and a lot of communication between student leaders and activists that is going on behind the scenes. There is a LOT of outreach, and this is huge in the activist movement, and this includes phone calls, emails, zoom calls, you name it!
Iuliana: We can’t argue that even busy young activists need balance in their lives to stay happy – how do you wind down so that you don’t lose your energy and ambition?
Riya: Honestly, I think that this is something that I definitely struggle with. Sometimes, it’s hard to relax because I always have this mental to-do list in the back of my mind, which can get in the way of any self-care or relaxing if not finished. However, I try to do work in increments, I’m a big fan of the pomodoro method, where I’ll do work for 20 minutes, and have a 5-minute break, or something to that effect so I don’t lose my mind.
Iuliana: Where do you get your inspiration from and what motivates you to pursue your passion?
Riya: I think a lot of my motivation comes from my own experiences, and hearing the stories of others. As a human race, we’ve made progress, but not nearly enough as we should have. I don’t want to start cliché, but I think that a lot of the times haters are my motivators, and that the word “no” in specific is a huge motivator and pushes me to turn that no into a yes.
Iuliana: What specific advice would you give to today’s teenagers to use their voice for the things they are passionate about?
Riya: I’d say find an issue that really resonates with you, and find a particular intersectionality of that issue that you would like to delve into and explore. Each of us has our lived set of experiences, and we can form different interesectionalities that intersect with broader “umbrella” issues that we can be advocates for. Another thing that I would recommend is finding new perspectives. I always try to listen to other people’s story’s and narratives in order to see the world through a new lens, and I think that this really allows us to become better advocates.
Iuliana: What’s the future look like for you? In what ways are you moving forward? Any exciting new projects?
Riya: I just started Geminism (@geminismorg), and just finished out a fellowship at Civics Unplugged, as well as my teen advisor tenure at GirlUp. Some things that I am looking forward to in the future include completing my senior year in high school, continuing my work as a Girl Advocate, and working on my gold award for Girl Scouts!
Iuliana: Last but not least, what is a quote that you live by?
Riya: There’s this saying that goes “you can’t change the way the wave breaks, but you can change the way that you ride it”. I think that I really live by that, and try to make the best of any situation I’ve been handed.
Follow Riya on Instagram here.