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Growing up, it was difficult for me to have pride in being an Asian American. The customs, food and traditions that were in my environment were extremely different from what I had seen in movies growing up. This made me feel as though the culture that I had grown up in was “weird.” As a result, I wanted nothing to do with my cultural identity. Instead of bringing fried rice, I wanted Nutella sandwiches. Instead of chrysanthemum tea, I wanted Capri Suns. I denied my culture. Things didn’t get easier when my “friends” began to make racial jokes, pointing at an elderly Asian and saying that it was my grandparent, while mocking Chinese accents and pulling back their eyes to imitate monolids. Instead of speaking up, I would harbor those comments, and use it as fuel for my internal thoughts of being ashamed to be Asian. These racial stereotypes made me dislike who I was. 

In 9th grade, my friend introduced me to a new program. There, I learned about Asian American history, the immigration process, and leadership skills. I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act, where there was a 10-year ban on Chinese immigration. I’ve seen posters of an Asian person getting caught in a mouse trap, another of an Asian man’s long hair being portrayed as a rat tail with the caption “They got to go.” I learned about Vincent Chin, and how he was beaten to death for simply being Asian. Attending the program allowed me to see racial inequity in a different light. I came to realize that harmful stereotypes have resulted in the violence and racial prejudice against Asian Americans, and I knew that I should take action. 

When coronavirus began, I started seeing more racial comments blaming Asians for Covid, only they were getting worse as I scrolled through social media. News articles about Asian Americans being attacked both verbally and physically on the streets were everywhere. I will never forget a report where three Asian Americans were stabbed - 2 children - because of their race. It completely disgusted me. Even more, it shocked me that there was no one addressing the rapid rise of xenophobia. It was like history repeating itself. The events I learned about began making appearances in news headlines. It terrified me, and made me wonder if my loved ones would be next. 

In April 2020, I had the opportunity to take action, and address the problems that the Asian community was facing. With a few other passionate youths and adult facilitators, we composed a letter, addressing Anti-Asian hate to school officials. After months of work, it went live on September 21st, 2020. We received an encouraging number of signatures from community members, and the letter and an interview were published to the Boston Globe 8 days later. However, in the comments, I still saw so many people dismissing and making light of these issues.

In these past few months, I’ve been able to help plan and attend a listening forum focusing on Anti-Asian hate. I have been lucky enough to be able to receive multiple trainings on how to in delve and play a crucial part in anti-racist work. I have also attended an anti-Asian hate rally at city hall, and led a conversation with other youths about Asian racism at a racial convening.

Although there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to stop Asian hate, and to get rid of racial inequality as a whole, I’m glad that I have had these opportunities to help my community, learn about other experiences, and to voice my opinions. These opportunities have helped me embrace my cultural identity, and have also increased my confidence in speaking out about current issues. There is still a long and rocky path ahead, but the experiences I have had will continue to motivate me in the future.  

© Jessica Chen. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.