Read through previous Asian-American Youth Spotlights below:
"Asian-American Youth Spotlight" highlights one exceptional declaration submitted by a young activist every week, and is selected by the DeclarASIAN team. It aims to give young Asian-American voices a platform to speak on any issues that they are passionate about.
5/24/20 | Jennalynn Fung, New York, U.S.A.
Most Asian-Americans describe their experiences of growing up as difficult because they were the one of the only Asian-kids in their community. But I’m from San Francisco, California...
The Sunset District, more specifically. I grew up amongst a ton of kids who not only looked like me, but came from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We all had that jet-black hair, those almond eyes, and packed ethnic lunches. When we opened our steaming thermoses full of rice, vegetables, and meat, there wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. Maybe that’s because nobody brought kimchi (haha ㅋㅋㅋ). We all lived in the same colorfully cramped homes on Noriega or Taraval, celebrated Lunar New Year with moon cakes, and had some level of Chinese school. Looking back on it, I’m thankful I was able to grow up without ever feeling dejected or out of place based on my outward appearance.
However, this Asian-American community in SF could be homogenous to a fault. The 2008 recession wiped out good portions of other ethnic groups, most notably African and Latinx-Americans. When you look at The City today, “gentrification” is what comes to mind first. The once thriving art scene in the Mission is now found in Oakland, where living is affordable. Most of SF’s citizens are white or asian, white-collar workers, and the majority of low-income jobs are filled by bay-area commuters. Even the paint jobs are different these days, with many home owners choosing to repaint their rainbow houses gray. It’s like the city is dying, choosing money over prosperity.
When I moved to Phoenix, Arizona as a twelve year-old following the recession, I was exposed to somewhat more diversity and even learned about my other half. When people see my last name and my face, they just assume I’m Chinese. When I speak broken Cantonese or don’t understand their Mandarin, they furl their eyebrows at me in confusion. When I don’t know about a certain Shanghai-nese dish, they wonder what I could even eat at home. But I’m half-Korean. It’s an understatement to say that one half of me is overlooked.
There have been numerous instances over the years where my full-Korean mother had to face even more ignorance because she isn’t Chinese, which is usually the assumption. At Knotts Berry Farm, a man came up to her without prompt, asking a question in Mandarin. When she was trying to walk my younger sister to school, a car driver almost hit them. Instead of shriveling up, she confronted the driver, who promptly responded “go back to China!” Even my family is divided; my chinese grandparents always unconsciously treated my mom differently than the rest of us.
I’ve discerned that our community (particularly, the elderly) is so focused on the differences between us and other races that we pay no attention to the microaggressions or lack of education within our community. We have to come together, especially during times of crisis and chaos (like this pandemic). Living in Queens, New York, I’ve never been in a more diverse environment. My roommate in freshman year was half-Japanese and half-Thai. It’s clear that younger generations have already grown up more globalized through the advancement of technology, social media, and blogs such as DeclarASIAN. Yet, with so many platforms available to us, we should work on uniting our communities even more.
4/24/20 | Austin Zeng, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
It’s always a little awkward when your culture, your heritage, is put into question--you’re judged: your every choice, your character, and even your complexion is dissected, picked apart and prodded at for everyone to see...
Whether it be a distant relative who you only see once a year, a classmate who speaks better Mandarin than you, or even the lady ringing you up at the Asian grocery store, you feel as if you are under constant scrutiny--your ancestors, your fellow Asian Americans, and the rest of society placing their own expectations on you. Other members of the Asian American community frequently recount the many horror stories and acts of racism they experienced from the racial majority; or, perhaps, of the times they were pitted against other minorities and people of color in school, at work, or even just on the street. But regardless of the situation, they always had their own community and cluster to fall back to, receiving comfort and support through mutual encounters and relatability. However, growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, I was rarely teased or bullied because of my race by those of different ethnicities. Ironically enough, it was my fellow Chinese Americans who never seemed to fail to comment on my disposition and accept me for who I am. It was a natural phenomenon in and of itself: all it took was one look or one sound from me to inspire that single, haunting thought--He’s whitewashed.
I spent my childhood begging others to pardon my lack of an accent and questioning my identity because of societal standards; and those with whom I shared a cultural heritage, or a sense of belonging and bond, looked down upon me for it. I was perpetually berated and criticized for the way I behaved and was virtually swept away by those “more Chinese” than me. I was seen as disrespectful to my family, my country, and to my culture. And, as a result of this, I was forced to apologize for things that I had no control over: I’m sorry that English is my first language and that I don’t sound “Asian”; I’m sorry that I enjoy eating “white people food” and listening to “white people music”; I’m sorry for not being a carbon copy of you. And yes, being a dedicated student of the humanities didn’t help me fit in--I mean, why couldn’t I study business or biochemistry like Mrs.Li’s children? And sure, working as a barista at Starbucks isn’t the best way to connect with my people either--because clearly only white people go there. And I could probably list a hundred more reasons as to why I am “whitewashed” and “un-Asian.” But regardless of how others might view me, I am proud of my heritage and proud of who I am.
Although my parents and I have never really gotten along, I understand and respect my duties as their son. They sacrificed so much for me: they left their friends, family, and home so that I can receive a fair education and countless other privileges inaccessible to other children my age. Perhaps my Mandarin is terrible and my accent is even worse, but I spent every summer of my childhood attending classes to painfully learn how to read and write characters--I even retried learning it in high school by taking Chinese for another three years. I am infatuated with the humanities and philosophical thought because I embrace individuality and autonomy--two qualities that we as a community will never be able to achieve if we continue to shun and belittle members of our own. I chose to work at Starbucks because I enjoy interacting with others; through customer service and a company that values diversity and inclusion, I want to break down the systematically implicit stereotypes placed upon Asian Americans--and plus, I am pretty freaking amazing at my job, too. I admire my culture and heritage and am proud to call myself Chinese, despite what others may say.
4/16/20 | Esther Cheng, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
"I am what some people would call a “banana.” I am yellow on the outside and white on the inside. I enjoy Starbucks as much as I enjoy boba, and I love turkey subs as much as I love dumplings (yum!). Growing up, I always had a separation between my Asian self and the self I projected to the world..."
Around the Lunar New Year, my mom always tells me the story of how she brought mooncakes to school and all my classmates hated them. In elementary school, I always wished my mom would pack less Chinese food and more of the sandwiches the rest of my classmates would eat. Sometimes, I would even trade with them because I wasn’t happy with the food my mom had prepared. Now, I look at my 11-year-old self and laugh because that food was GOOD, and I had missed out.
My parents are insane. They came to America in their twenties and never looked back. My dad, who taught himself English by reading biochemistry textbooks, works at a pharmaceutical company and is a dedicated member of our church. This year, he became a deacon! My mom, who knows countless coding languages, is a member of Mensa and doesn’t even consider that a huge accomplishment. She loves to garden and makes me eat all the bitter greens because, as she says, “It’ll make you pretty.” I am so honored to have parents like them because they have such inspirational backgrounds but are still so humble. Some people dread becoming like their parents when they grow older, but I would be proud to live like them.
I am a dancer who loves to bake. A Christian who loves God and my church, and an Asian-American. Luckily, I’ve found that, just like a banana, I am made up of BOTH my white bits and my yellow bits. I am proud to come from such a rich culture and be a part of what makes America different. I come from a predominantly white area, but I’ve come to learn that everyone is unique apart from their skin tone. Everyone has their own story, and that story is what sets them apart from others. I am proud to be all the things that I am, and I hope that, in the future, any person of color would feel the same. Around the Lunar New Year, my mom always tells me the story of how she brought mooncakes to school and all my classmates hated them. In elementary school, I always wished my mom would pack less Chinese food and more of the sandwiches the rest of my classmates would eat. Sometimes, I would even trade with them because I wasn’t happy with the food my mom had.
4/10/20 | Grace Stevens, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
"As an adopted child from South Korea, I grew up in a predominantly white community. I struggled to associate myself with my peers, and even when I could with another Asian American, we were still outnumbered..."
While the setting has never changed, elementary school was the worst of them all. The beginning of each grade was exciting, but I couldn’t help but ask myself, “will I be the only Asian in my class?”, something that only a few people have to consider.
It’s unfortunate, and while I believe no one ever intentionally discriminated others in my own,
community, there was always something off. It’s like that feeling when you have something stuck in your throat. You can perform your daily tasks just fine, but there’s an uncomfortable sensation that you can’t quite eliminate. Those cringe-worthy elementary crushes would only last momentarily because I didn’t think anyone could be attracted to an Asian. This was something I began to accept, and when the school day was over, I would return home to my Caucasian family. I felt different.
Those unhappy feelings lingered until I met my fifth-grade teacher. I walked into the classroom, and there she was… a loving and compassionate woman who also happened to be adopted from South Korea. I could associate myself with the most respected person in the room, and it was liberating. The years to follow were still quite difficult, but I finally gained the confidence to appreciate my heritage. Rather than feeling ashamed of it, my background became something I was proud of. I experienced more personal growth than ever, and it was gratifying to watch society catch up as well. Asian representation soared in Hollywood, even making movies with all Asian casts such as Crazy Rich Asians. The Oscar Award-winning movie Parasite was accompanied by much controversy, but those with clear minds saw the movie for what it was. Despite being a film spoken entirely in Korean, America looked past this and loved everything about it. Appreciating art should not be selective.
K-pop has also made its way into western culture, something that many did not see coming. I still remember when Gangnam Style was the song we would laugh and dance to. Now, countless people choose to listen to Korean music, and many have even learned to love themselves because of it. This integration of Asian culture into American society has shocked many, including us Asian-Americans, but I like to think that this is just the beginning. I have grown to cherish every aspect of my background, and I hope other Asian Americans feel the same. We have truly become a force to be reckoned with."
3/30/20 | Sarah Zhang, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
I've grown up under the roof of two Chinese immigrants from Shanghai. My parents have given me everything I have, and I couldn’t possibly be more grateful for them. As a child, I would hear my dad’s "success story" time and time again – a young man driven by his mother constantly being stuck in China’s rancid hospitals and passing of his own father, coming to the United States to pursue a medical degree with only forty dollars and a single suitcase...
My dad inspired my heavy work ethic and love for education, as well as teaching me the importance of giving back to those without the privileges that I was blessed with.
Although I’ve come to appreciate my heritage, and still cannot stress enough how lucky I am, a part of me will always feel less valued than most of my white peers and humans. I also can’t stress enough how we continue to teach children racism within what we typically consider to be a progressive community. I remember being making headdresses of indigenous people by cutting out construction paper in first grade and taking photos wearing them with my classmates. I didn’t understand that to be cultural appropriation until a year or two ago. I remember my own peers asking me for help because “You’re Asian, of course you’re smart!”. I remember microaggressions, slant eyes, and slurs. I remember seeing my white classmates throwing around the n-word like it meant nothing. I remember being told I had to work harder for colleges due to diversity quotas. I remember being spit in the face last year following a racist remark by a middle-aged white man.
Under the coronavirus outbreak, I’ve been luckier than others. The worst I’ve personally had it is someone pulling their mask closer when I approached. But I’ve always felt that I’ve been continually stuck in a limbo, where I’ve been pushed towards adopting a more Western-based identity while still maintaining some degree of Asian-ness. It’s been a source of continuous frustration, and one that many first-generation ABCs can also probably relate to in some extent. I love my family and Bucks County immensely as well as what it’s given me, yet it’s disappointing that many of my classmates still don’t understand how harshly their words and actions can hurt not necessarily us, but disrespect the heritage and legacy of my culture and others. I’ll always appreciate the life I lead and those around me; however, I think it’s so important to continue the conversation on the different experiences of Asian-Americans.
4/4/20 | Devin Wu, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
I am an eighteen-year old Chinese American who lives in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Before you go ahead and make your impression on me, let me tell you a few more things…
I am a lover of hip-hop, the Philadelphia Eagles, and pineapple pizza. I dislike horror movies, camping, and Cowboys fans. I’ve been a lead in a play, tennis captain, and student council secretary. I am a Homecoming King who cries after watching “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” in a dark movie theater. I am a rapper on Soundcloud and a classical pianist. I can bend my thumb really far back and burp the ABC’s. Simply put, I am not your “model minority”.
Growing up, my father told me that the scariest moment of his life was when he first took a plane alone from his comfortable home in China to the Philadelphia International Airport. Separated from the rest of his family and barely knowing a word of English, he told me the first six months before my mother arrived were the worst. My parents’ own personal lives are one that represents the lives of many immigrants who move to this nation; it is a harsh and brutal path.
Now, with a house and three wonderful kids (I hope I can describe myself as wonderful), my parents use their experiences in America to emphasize the importance of education and determination. Before I was born, my mother used to work long hours at a local restaurant and study for graduate school while my father worked on his PhD. Their life experiences have pushed me to be the student I am today, and I am incredibly grateful for it. But throughout my childhood, they’ve taught me an even greater lesson beyond school and life: be yourself and follow your passions. From this, I’ve become, well, a rather unique person. My interests in things like football, music have not just earned my parents’ support but also the ability to connect with many different kinds of people at my school. Through this, I’ve been blessed to have great friends and support from my community – all of which allow me to have great confidence in my identity.
However, as I myself have had the chance to grow up in America, it would be an understatement to say that many of my peers at school have assumed certain stereotypes about me. It annoys me when people assume that I’m smart, and I should know the answers to test questions when no one else does. It annoys me when I get confused with one of five other Chinese students in my grade. While these moments in life may seem small and insignificant, they help build up the stereotype that Asian Americans can be defined under one label: “Model Minority.”
I don’t think any Asian American should be viewed as the same or under a label. Yes, the stereotypes around being Asian are positive – we apparently get good grades in school, pursue becoming a doctor, and have a “successful” white-collar life. While it isn’t a bad thing to embody any of these traits, these stereotypes, in many ways, don’t represent who we are as a community. It doesn’t represent our individual passions and ambitions that make us so unique. And in a society where racism against Asian Americans has peaked due to the terrible effects of COVID-19, now is the time for us to be vocal on who we are. Now is the time to show to our country that we cannot keep living under the same stereotypes that have plagued our community for years.
As I head on to college, I’ll always be grateful for my parents, who have taught and shown me everything beautiful about life, my dear older sister, who I aspire to be like every day, and my twin brother, who has given me the gift of kindness. I’ll be thankful for my close friends, peers, and teachers who have guided me along this journey to independence. My one hope for other Asian Americans is that we should remain hopeful in the good of the nation during this challenging moment and confident in our own identities.
3/17/20 | Dan Kim, New York, U.S.A.
As a member of the youth growing up in our current society, I'm lucky enough to say that I have not faced serious strife solely because of my race...
The fact that I grew up in an education-centric suburb with a relatively solid Asian population around me may have deterred any serious racism towards me, or any other Asian individuals. That's not to say I don't feel the subtleties of indirect racial discrimination or the like, but I am grateful that I was raised in an auspicious environment in terms of racial equality.
However, our country's current political state does make me worry about my own safety. COVID-19 has indirectly brought upon serious pressure for me and my Asian friends. Each day that passes seems to increase this pressure, simply because the virus, dubbed the "China Virus" by President Trump, is somehow the fault of all Asians. To go back on the point of indirect racial discrimination, even if President Trump's intention was not to be racist, he is indirectly putting an enormous amount of pressure on us Asians throughout the entire country. It has gotten to the point where I am afraid that if I go out to a public space, I might find myself facing prejudice or antagonism against me due to my race. It may be dramatic to think so, but I cannot help but be worried for my own well-being in this time of increasing racial pressure on Asians. When even our own president is making such remarks, the future concerns me in terms of what ramifications may come to be as a result of this virus.
It's important to realize that as an Asian American, I am no different than any other American citizen. In times like these, following the government's guidelines in dealing with this outbreak, especially in a calm manner, is crucial. Even though I am Asian, it should not define me in this time of global struggle. Practice social distancing, not racial distancing.
3/23/20 | Ling Xu, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
My parents both immigrated from China and worked extremely hard to provide me with the privileges I have today...
Too often, I hear others undermining the struggles my parents and every other immigrant family who came to America with nothing endured. As a child, it is easier to blend in with the Caucasian society in which I have lived my entire life, but I have watched my parents receive unequal treatment because of their accents and their inability to truly integrate into American society. As a result, I often find myself juggling the differences between their perspectives on current events and core values with those of my peers. Unconsciously, my fellow Asian Americans and I have perhaps become a bridge connecting the traditional mentalities of my parents and the majority of American society in how one should conduct their life.
I am extremely grateful for the wonderful people I have met in this community, and many of my best friends are not Asian. If someone were to scan over the course of my life as a ChInese American, they would notice insignificant discrepancies between my experience and that of a typical Caucasian teenager in this area. However, it’s these little, seemingly harmless distinctions that expose the deeply ingrained themes of discrimination. When people talk about China or Chinese people in derogatory ways, is it not my responsibility to stand up for myself, my family, my fellow Asian Americans, and my culture? However, at times I feel afraid. Even writing this and expressing my own opinions took courage. And THAT SHOULD NOT BE THE CASE. Nobody can see or feel that fear, but I’m sure that other Asian Americans and any other minority will know that feeling—that we will be, in turn, humiliated for who we are.
My parents and my predominantly white peers often stand on opposite ends of the spectrum, and I feel torn between both. Nonetheless, I have always tried to remain open-minded, and I believe that is what everyone in this society can attempt to do. I don’t expect that everyone around me and beyond this community should know every single fact about Chinese/Asian culture or COVID-19 or racial discrimination, but I do hope that everyone learns to embrace knowledge with an open mindset. If more individuals could stand in someone else’s shoes and understand that every person possesses untold stories and that there is not only one single, unshakable “truth”, I believe the world would be a better place.