By Lillian Bit, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Robbie the Rice Ball is the new Asian boy in town. He’s hoping he can find friends and just fit in. He is the creation from a digital animation short created by the artistic talent of 14 year old Kyra Skye Yip and her creative mother Barbara Yau.
Robbie the Rice ball is concerned because he heard that other people may not want to be his friend because they may think he looks different and he’s confused as to why people think that he’s responsible for the Coronavirus.
People say the Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In the case of this mother daughter duo, the apples are both golden and delicious. The story of Robbie is pure gold and created by Barbara Yau who is the mother of 14- year-old Kyra Skye Yip whose artistic talent produced the delicious digital short film and character of “Robbie the Rice Ball” and his two friends- Sushi and Noodle.
This wonderful story is targeted to school children and will be distributed to teachers in schools to prompt school kids to ask questions about why they would avoid some people as friends. In the era of Covid 19 racism the film is an important teachable tool.
Barbara Yau is also founder of CAACNYC -Concerned AsAm Citizens of NYC. Her daughter Kyra initiated her idea for this organization to combat racism and used the slogan “Hate is A Virus”when she drew their organizations‘ logo of a masked girl wearing that slogan. Both mom and daughter are activists.
An interview on the story of their collaboration follows:
How did the idea For Robbie the Rice Ball originate?
When the pandemic started, coronavirus racism began just as quickly and viciously. The most vulnerable populations of Asian Americans, including the elderly, women and children, were being attacked and harassed. At that point, we started to work on brainstorming about creative ways to help curb racism against these populations. We launched several campaigns including our “Stop the Hate” poster initiative and marches with Concerned AsAmCitizens of NYC (CAACNYC) and our “Safe From Hate” personal safety alarms initiative, which has received positive feedback from the community. With schools starting in person for many students this fall, a campaign to address coronavirus bullying among children seemed to be the best next step.
What was your motivation and mission?
Barbara Yau: We wanted to work together to find a creative way to educate young children about coronavirus racism against Asian Americans and to encourage deeper critical thinking about racism and tolerance in general. We suspect that this bullying would be a potential problem once school starts up again. When the coronavirus began early this year, Asian American children were already experiencing racism at school. And with more recent talk of the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung Flu,” we expect that this will continue to be an ongoing concern. We are presently emailing and posting on teacher group pages and sites to ask teachers if they would share our video with their classes.
How did you think of the characters and the dialogue for Robbie the Rice Ball?
Kyra Yip: I wanted to design a main character that was approachable and relatable to young kids. I wanted someone who looked Asian, so I thought of animating a food item. I first came up with a sesame ball, but when I finished the drawing, it looked more like a rice ball, so we decided to go with that. The other characters were sushi and noodles, two items that most people would recognize as being Asian food.
Barbara Yau: Being that our target audience are elementary school children, I wanted to make sure that the story was relatable and engaging enough for this age group. I did not want it to sound like a lecture because, as we all know, kids will avoid lectures at all cost! I didn’t want to directly tell the kids that racism was bad and not to bully. I wanted to present the information and let them figure out what is right and wrong on their own. By posing pointed and thought provoking questions, I believe that deeper learning can be experienced. Our goal is to encourage kids to thinking more deeply and critically about racism and tolerance in general.
Why was Robbie the name chosen and why was Rudy chosen as the voice?
Kyra Yip: We wanted an “R” name to go with his last name “Riceball.” We tried out a few names, but “Robbie” sounded the cutest and friendliest of all of them. It’s also a common American name to say that Asians can be American too.
Barbara Yau: We auditioned everyone in our immediate family for the role of Robbie, but we all failed! We found it difficult to come up with an appropriate voice and also keep it consistent throughout the story. We quickly realized that voice acting is extremely challenging! During a recent barbecue with our friends, we talking about how we couldn’t find a suitable “Robbie” when it was suggested that their teenage son, Rudy, could try out for the part. He said a few lines, and we gave him the job immediately. He is the perfect “Robbie!”
Was the music original or adapted?
Kyra Yip: The music was chosen from the Free YouTube Library because it sounded upbeat and bouncy just like “Robbie!”
How did you both develop the skills you needed to create the project? Did Kyra learn her creative arts skills from an early age? What is her path of study ?
Barbara Yau: I’m a speech-language pathologist, so I have knowledge and interest in communication and childhood development. I have also enjoyed writing since I was a teenager. While I enjoy brainstorming and coming up with creative thoughts and ideas, I don’t have an ounce of artistic talent! And this is why Kyra was obviously played the most essential role in the making of this video. I am in awe of her artistry.
Kyra Yip: I’ve loved drawing since I was very little. When I draw, it makes me feel better. I am able to express my feelings and thoughts best through art. Recently, I started getting into digital art and animation. I took a couple of online classes during the summer, and I was able to use what I learned to create “Robbie.” I attend Laguardia High School of Music and Art and major in Fine Arts, and this has really helped me to improve. I am not sure what I want to do for a career in the future, but I want to something that involves doing art. Maybe product design?
Where did you both get your activism spirit ?
Barbara Yau: My parents are both very active in the Asian American community. They are dedicated and committed to their causes, so we definitely have excellent role models.
Have you marched in other protests?
Barbara Yau: As part of CAACNYC, my co-founders and I organized the “Stop the Hate” marches. We have not gone to other marches, but we fully support the Black Lives Matter Movement and China Mac’s rallies. My husband and I often have family discussions with our kids about racism of people of color and the importance of these protests to create positive changes.
Tell me about the history of your mother daughter relationship.
Kyra Yip: I think we are closer than most mothers and daughters. My mom is very supportive and shows interest in the things I’m interested in.
Barbara Yau: I have been blessed to have Kyra as a daughter. I love her of course, but I also happen to like her a lot. She is talented, but more importantly, she is a kind person with a strong sense of self and justice.
And how do you now collaborate on projects like the logo and Robbie ?
Kyra Yip: We make a good team because we complement each other on projects. My mom is creative, while I am artistic. We learn from each other.
Are there other projects you’ve worked on before?
Barbara Yau: Kyra did all the artwork for our “Stop the Hate” and “Safe from Hate” campaigns.
What do you both hope for in your future endeavors? Will there be more Robbie type pieces?
Barbara Yau: We hope to do more projects together as time allows. But, I have returned to a regular work schedule, and Kyra starts school next week. We may be on the busy side in the short term, but we are going to continue doing this work in the future. Stay tuned for more “Robbie!”
What else would you like me to tell about you both that I haven’t asked?
Barbara Yau: Personally, I would like to thank everyone in the Asian American community who has contributed to make things better during such a challenging time. Whether you have donated your time or money to a cause, signed a petition, participated in an anti-hate march, or swept the streets of Chinatown, etc., it all adds up and has made a difference. I have never felt prouder to be an Asian American.
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