In the ancient epic tale of the Ramayana, Rama and Sita spent 14 years exiled to the forest. After many adventures, they made their way back to their kingdom, and when the people heard they were returning, they lit the pathway with candles so they could find their way home. The victory of light over darkness in the Ramayana was a metaphor for knowledge and consciousness triumphing over ignorance.
RAMA began as an arts/entertainment organization dedicated to creativity and expression in the Asian American community. When writer and actor, Ryan Takemiya, traveled to Asia to study hip hop and it’s cultural manifestations across multiple Asian countries, he was moved and inspired by the way that hip hop was culturally synthesized by each region’s communities in a way that was unique to their cultural expressions. When he looked to the US, he had a hard time identifying the ways that hip hop and other forms of artistic expression genuinely spoke to and honestly captured the Asian American experience. So in 2008, in an effort to encourage more authentic expression in the Asian American community, he, alongside Aaron Roan, Michelle Lee, and Adam Loo, founded RAMA, putting on shows, concerts, and events that featured Asian American performers of all genres as well as interactive art events that got people involved in the artistic process. With the help of James Banh, Jessie Park, Jump Promprakob, Jason Lor, and Willy Chen, these shows and events served as a hallmark of the Asian American arts movement of the Bay Area for over 5 years.
In 2016, Haylee Thikeo helped RAMA move away from the strictly performative and toward communal storytelling with the creation of “Talk Story”, an Asian American storytelling open mic event. One of the only events of its kind, Talk Story allows Asian Americans a safe space to share their stories in a world where they are often silenced or erased, and where attendees experience genuine connection through the act of vulnerable storytelling.
In 2018, Ryan met licensed psychotherapist, Stephanie Lee, and they bonded over their shared passions for empowering Asian Americans to express themselves authentically and providing platforms for them to be seen and heard. Desiring to remove the barrier between stage and audience, they shifted RAMA toward communal gatherings. In 2019, they joined with Tammy Gu, Mitchell Tong, and Gordon Lau, who had been hosting regular dumpling parties, and started throwing “Rama Parties” where food and drinks are shared as well as the passions and projects of their community members.
Also in 2019, Stephanie and Ryan worked together to create a healing curriculum on “Overcoming Toxic Invisibility for Asian Americans,” merging Stephanie’s expertise in therapy, psychology, and neuroscience with Ryan’s experience and studies in cultural identity, cultural synthesis, and expressive arts. Together, they share their curriculum through weekly workshops and online courses with the goal of empowering their Pan Asian American community to be at the forefront of leading Asian Americans out of darkness into light.
Through these platforms, RAMA now captures the celebratory and inspirational nature of RAMA performances in a more intimate, interpersonal setting conducive to community, friendship, and communal healing. Through this, RAMA believes that we, as Asian Americans, will begin to shed light on our identity and come closer to understanding who we are…
…And journey from darkness to light.