ආයුබෝවන්, hello! My name is Gunindu Abeysekera, or "Guni," and my pronouns are he/him/his. My family and I migrated to the United States from Sri Lanka in the year 2000 when I was two years-old. I was raised in Orange County, California surrounded by a community of Sri Lankan-American migrant families through whom I developed my cultural subjectivity. Growing up, I participated in various performing arts from my culture and had an avid interest in popular media from South Asia. Consequently, and after coming across the phrase "nostalgia without memory," much of my personal, community, and academic interests now involve the experiences of growing up in the South Asian American diaspora through arts and activism. I love films, photography, performing arts, food, animals, and community-based archives.
A self-portrait I took on World Photography Day 2020, a day after my birthday.
I attended the University of California, Irvine from 2015-2018 for my Bachelor's degree in Film and Media Studies with a minor in International Studies. From 2018-2019, I completed my Master's degree in Asian American Studies at UC Irvine as well. During my time as an undergraduate in 2017, three friends and I founded UCI's first ever South Asian Student Union (SASU), a space where students from all backgrounds can actively participate in both celebrating and unpacking the problematic aspects of their South Asian identities through philanthropic work. At the end of our inaugural year, we were awarded "Best Multicultural Organization" and UCI Cross Cultural Center’s "Praxis Award." In 2018, I taught my own for-unit course on the Bollywood film Devdas (2002) and its relationship to postcolonial theory. In May 2018 I was nominated by my African-American Studies professor, Dr. Frank Wilderson III, to present at UCI's Undergraduate Critical Theory Conference. My panel was "The Unthought in Discourses on Nation, Coalition, and Law" and I presented a paper titled, "Politics of Padmavati: A Survey of the Patriarchal Hold on Feminine Power in Film.” During my Master's, I created a documentary film to accompany my written thesis on the colonial-banned South Asian dance form, Bharatanatyam, and its relation to diasporic "nostalgia without memory." While currently working on my own community-based archives, I am a PhD student at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance.
A guest lecture at UC Irvine on November 26, 2020 for
Dr. Dorothy Fujita-Rony's course, "Asian American History."
My mentors and I at the completion of my Master's thesis defense on May 24, 2019. (Left to Right: Professor Dorothy Fujita-Rony, Professor Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Professor Beheroze Shroff [on laptop screen], and myself)
The most foundational aspect of all the work I do today is a result of my experiences with community-based activism. I first became involved with grassroots organizing at age 18 while campaigning for Mayor Farrah Khan's Irvine city council campaign in 2015. When the outcome of the 2016 US election left me distrusting of politics, I decided to work closely with more community-centered, mutual aid social justice spaces. Within UC Irvine, I co-founded our South Asian Student Union (SASU) to discuss our unique subjectivities and create philanthropic opportunities for our student body. We held “Chai Nights” to discuss themes such as: “Diversity and Representation;” “South Asian Feminisms;” “Mental Health;” “LGBTQIA+;” “Interpersonal Violence”; “Decolonization”; “Shadeism and Anti-Blackness.” I facilitated the latter with a lecture and moderated conversation with Professor Frank Wilderson. In 2017, I worked with fellow student leaders to address food and housing insecurity by establishing UCI's FRESH Basic Needs Hub. At FRESH, I directly worked in the operation of our food pantry, organization of food and housing justice-related programming, and outreach and marketing. I proceeded to work at FRESH until April 2020, so I had experience working there as an undergraduate student, graduate student, and post-graduate full-time employee. Through both SASU and FRESH, I established my own sense of community and collaborated with student activists from like-minded organizations such as: Students for Justice in Palestine at UCI, for whom I created a logo and presented a workshop titled "Colonialism and Memory;" UCI's DREAM Center, the resource center for students who are Undocumented; and UCI's Cross-Cultural Center.
1: SASU board and I at our inaugural cultural night on April 14, 2018 that raised $1,619 for South Asian Network.
2: SASU members and I at our first "Decolonize Your Wardrobe" day on November 15, 2017.
1: FRESH staff and Associated Students of UC Irvine forming our inaugural Zot Out Hunger initiative.
2: FRESH team members and I at the grand opening of the basic needs hub on September 27, 2017.
In 2017, I co-founded YALU: Youth Advancement, Leadership, & Unification with my best friend, Anuk Peliyagoda. YALU is a community organization we created to form relationships between the Sri Lankan diaspora with Sri Lankans on our home island and to foster a space for Sri Lankan-Americans to explore their hybrid identities together. We launched YALU with a pen pal program between 60 participants, (30 through YALU in the US and 30 through Sarvodaya Shanti Sena in Sri Lanka). Unfortunately due to complications from the tragic Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka and then COVID-19, we halted the pen pal program. Currently and through YALU, I curate the Instagram blog @SpeakInSinhala to teach the Sinhala language by posting daily words relevant to current, social justice events and pairing them with media related to Sri Lankan culture. I also envision that this account will encourage conversations within our communities to destigmatize important social issues for which we did not have the vocabulary to do so prior. Now that I am taking a gap before I enroll in a PhD program, I spend time conducting archival and oral storytelling workshops for youth groups and university students. April 14, 2021 (Sinhala and Tamil New Year), I launched my own community archive called Project ISLAND: Introducing Sri Lankan-American Narratives in the Diaspora. This project aims to create and preserve the histories of Sri Lankan-Americans for generations to come. In the Summer of 2022, I served as the Communications and Advocacy Fellow for South Asian SOAR: Survivors, Organizations, and Allies - Rising, a new national non-profit dedicated to supporting the movement against gender-based violence.
YALU Co-Founder, Anuk Peliyagoda, and I tabling at Irvine Valley College's Elevate AAPI event, "Raising our Voices" on April 27, 2019.
The interfaith candlelight vigil YALU hosted on April 23, 2019 with Sri Lanka United and the South Asian Student Union at UC Irvine for the victims of the tragic Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019.