The MAAY (Missouri Asian American Youth) Foundation presents its first Asian American art exhibition this week for AAPI Month. The Asian American Voice: Reclaiming the Narratives tells unique stories through video, ceramic, digital media, paintings, and more. Featuring different artists from across the state, the event showcases talent through varying perspectives of the Asian American experience.

President Caroline Fan created the MAAY Foundation in 2019 in Webster Groves, MO. The organization promotes Asian-specific civic engagement, with most events occurring in the St. Louis area. The foundation and programs are extending to Kansas City with the new Asian American art exhibit featured at ArtsKC.

Events and Communications Consultant Annie Le describes looking for Asian American artists across the state. As more TV shows and books feature Asian American stories, it’s important to recognize these aren’t the only narratives. Support in all communities—including smaller cities like Columbia and Springfield—is vital for accurate representation.

“There is no one unified experience of being Asian American,” says Le. “It’s reminding folks that there is no singular narrative about what it is to be Asian American.”

Policy Associate Andrew de las Alas focuses on finding the beauty within the Asian American community, especially after a spike in hate crimes in 2020. He says Fan’s favorite motto is “You can’t become what you don’t see,” highlighting it can be an unorthodox choice to have a career path outside of traditional expectations, like graduating with a STEM degree. The art exhibition is an opportunity to celebrate and provide more faces of what Asian Americans can be.

“This is an opportunity to push back against decades of intentional identity and social construction around Asian Americans, where we tend to get railroaded into certain areas,” says de las Alas.

Artist Smitha George encountered a similar expectation, stating that a career in the creative industry was out of the question. However, through dedication and encouragement from George’s spouse, her artistic passion came to the surface.

“So the creative side or the creativity side, you cannot kill that in a person if you have that. It will be there with you, and you will be eventually drawn to it,” says George. “I’m happy that today I took this, and I’m following my passion, and I’m able to reach a much wider audience.”

Drawing on experiences moving across Indian states, George created a collection of detailed paintings with cultural attire from different regions for the art exhibit. When thinking of inspiration, Smitha asked herself if she wanted to represent her country, India, or Asia as a whole. To cater to both, Smitha says that clothes tell the story of a culture, and learning about the designs, colors, and embellishments used allows others to learn about Asian subcultures.

“The clothes we wear tell stories of our culture, our heritage. And tradition is passed down to generations and generations, like from India,” says George. “It speaks the way things are made, the materials and the process, and all are embedded together.”

Artist Raffaela Malazarte enjoys working with bright colors, but the message in her painting Railroad Workers extends beyond its eye-catching pastels. Malazarte discusses the history of Asian Americans who helped build the Transcontinental Railroad, but their labor was unrecognized due to discrimination.

“So my railroad workers, even if they did not grow up here…they also contributed to the country’s success,” says Malazarte. “They didn’t go to war, but they did their own battlefield.”

Concerning Reclaiming the Narratives, Malazarte tells children to develop their own personal brand. Believing art needs to appear like another’s work will only prevent them from finding their signature style. She says it can take an artist’s whole life to develop it, so it’s important to have fun along the journey and contribute to your community with a unique message.

“Make sure you spread positivity through your art because you don’t know, it will inspire other people,” says Malazarte.

The Asian American Voice: Reclaiming the Narratives is held on Tuesday with opening night from 6:30-8:30 p.m., and Wednesday and Thursday visits from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Catering is provided by the first Vietnamese coffee shop in Kansas City, Cafe Cà Phê. Guests can attend the art exhibition at 106 Southwest Blvd.