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Anna Lai, Management Information Systems Senior

By Jessica Sinn

Thumbnail image for link to story: Allies and Advocates-Anna Lai

Name: Anna Lai
Major: Management Information Systems Senior

Programs and Activities: Asian Business Student Association, Association for Latino Professionals of America

image of Anna lai

When the coronavirus outbreak emerged,  Anna Lai wanted serve her community but couldn’t take the risk of exposing her parents to the virus.

“I was constantly scrolling through the news, feeling helpless because I couldn’t do anything other than reading these stories of people falling ill and dying by the thousands,” Lai says.

She soon discovered a remote summer internship within the university’s IC² Institute that would allow her to make an impact in an underserved, rural community while gaining valuable work experience in her chosen field. As part of the institute’s Regional Economic Recovery Initiative, she collected surveys, conducted research and interviewed community members in Bellville, Texas.

The most gratifying aspect of this work, she says, is helping the most affected communities get the resources they need, such as low-cost health care facilities and economic relief assistance for families and businesses.

“It’s more than just monetary resources, this data also provides a better understanding of the unique identities of each of these towns and what they have to offer—from county fairs to small mom-and-pop businesses,” says Lai, who later created a roadmap for improving economic and health outcomes for the Bellville community. “We want to help bolster the economy by getting people to stay and attracting more visitors.”

Now well into the fall semester, Lai’s outreach work is far from over. An active member of the university’s Asian American community, she is standing in solidarity with two movements that have dovetailed with the pandemic.  As hate speech runs rampant in the streets, on social media and in the news, Lai encourages others to condemn discriminatory sentiments, even in the guise of political rhetoric.

“The ‘Chinese Virus’ is just not right to say,” Lai says. “It’s not right to label an entire race with something that’s derogatory. Luckily my friends and family haven’t experienced discrimination, but I know a lot of people who have. I just try to send support as much as I can with both movements.”

Another way to advocate for these movements, Lai says, is to start conversations with friends and family—and really listen to their viewpoints.

“It’s important to get your family on board,” Lai says. “My dad is from Singapore and my mom is from Vietnam, so they are very traditional and conservative. I really have to take my time to understand what they’re thinking, what they’re fighting for, and what they’re fighting against. If you can’t have a discussion with your family, how can you do that with the rest of the world?”

While having these difficult discussions, Lai keeps coming back to the “All Lives Matter” debate.

“When someone says Black Lives Matter, they’re saying Black lives need people to stand up for them,” Lai says. “For example, if your neighbor’s house caught fire, would you insist that the firefighter attend to your house first because it might go up in flames one day? No—the firefighters have to rush over to the burning house first because it needs help the most.”

Lai hopes these conversations will inspire more people to take a stand against racial injustice —whether that means protesting in the streets, donating to nonprofits or stopping hate speech in its tracks.

“There is a lot of injustice with both the Asian American and African American communities—and I don’t believe those movements contradict each other,” Lai says. “You don’t have to choose one cause over the other. I feel very strongly for Black Lives Matter, and I fight for my people as well.”