We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofLeana Cook

Before I start this story, I will be giving a little bit of information about myself and my family. I am thirteen years old and was born in America. My mother is Filipino and was born in the Philippines and flew over here to meet my dad and have me. My dad was also born here in America and is American. I was never really “embarrassed” to be half Filipino or uncomfortable saying I was half, even when I was little. One of the events that I am going to be talking about changed my mind. Obviously, I've grown and no longer feel those certain ways, but for now we will be focusing on the past. 

So let's begin. I was in the fifth grade, and one morning I decided I wanted to put my hair up in a bun for that day, I’ve seen other girls at my school have their hair up in buns before, so that was why I wanted to try it out, but also I’ve never really done that hairstyle before. I asked my mom if she could help me out, and she gladly accepted. I felt confident and was excited to show all of my friends since I’d never worn a bun to school before.

I had only a little bit of time left until my school bus came, so I decided to stick my pencil through my bun to hold it in. When I got on the bus and sat down with my friends, they of course complimented me, which boosted my ego a bit. After a few stops, one student got on my bus and told me that I looked like one of those Asian women with sticks in their hair. (Before I continue the story, I want to say I'm sure they didn’t mean to be racist or harmful in any way.) 

At the time I was in such an awkward state, and I didn’t know what to say, so I just laughed it off in embarrassment. I'm sure when it was the end of the day I un-tangled my bun from my hair and left it down for the rest of the school year out of humiliation, but also because I didn't want to face the same problem again. 

Another story that I have was back in elementary school kids my age in grade first, second, and maybe third would pull their eyes back and say things that weren't necessarily nice. I don’t think they meant it towards me specifically because there were also other Asian kids at my old school. Of course, they are just little kids and probably saw it from the Internet and thought it didn't mean any harm. But if they did know what they were doing was wrong, hopefully they grew from that experience and look back on it as a mistake.

Another story from first through third grade was about a friend of mine that was Asian. He was definitely disrespected for his race, and I could be wrong since my memory is off, but I do remember one time when I was sitting with him at the lunch table, showing off my drawings from my notebook. A couple kids from the other table said some disrespectful things, but I don't exactly remember what they said to him.

Before I moved here, I lived in Fairfax near my mom's friends’ houses. We would go to a lot of birthday parties and get-togethers, which contained a lot of karaoke and of course cooking. Since I moved, we can’t really do that as often as we used to. Almost every month we would go camping on the weekends since we all live so far away from each other. It's really nice seeing everyone near me. We have a great time together and get along pretty well. I also feel like they all helped me feel more proud of being half Filipino.

I have now grown from these situations as stated at the beginning. If I could go back in time and tell my little self that she didn't have to be embarrassed, I would.

© Leana Cook. 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.