Celebrating L.A. Youth’s 25th anniversary: Race & Identity
Tying our past to our present, a current L.A. Youth writer looks back at some of our best stories highlighting students’ exploration of race and identity.
I don’t see why I have to wear Guess overalls, baggy jeans or earrings from the Crenshaw swap meet to prove to anyone that I am black. Why should I talk with an attitude, or use bad English? Yet I feel that if I did these things, other black teens would accept me more.
From “A darker shade of racism” by Nkechi Obioha. First published February – March 1992
I finally realized how sick I was of presentations that focused on the atrocities of whites to almost every other cultural group. Instantly disgusted with myself for thinking that, I suppressed these thoughts by telling myself, “Oh no, how awful,” for I knew the full reality of what my ancestors had done was worse than what the people in the skit were showing us. These things are skimmed over in history class—treated as a statistic instead of something tragic and cruel.
From “Pride or Guilt? Ethnic assemblies can separate us rather than bring us together” by Sarah Gustafson, 15, Immaculate Heart HS. First published September – October 1998
Learning English was the only thing I cared about. A solid mastery of English would bring up my grades and help me make friends. And it could keep me from being teased and taunted by bullies at school. With every joke that my classmates played on me, they reminded me that I was in America now, and I had to be an American boy. It was a matter of survival. By the time I reached high school, people assumed I was born here ‘cause I seemed so American. Finally I was being accepted!
From “I’m American, I guess—or am I Chinese?” by Vincent Hsia, 18, South Pasadena HS. First published November – December 2000
It’s because I was just “tolerating” my white and Korean friends that I was able to put them down behind their backs. My friend who had wanted to “dress up” as a Chinese girl was maybe doing a little more than tolerating my heritage, but she wanted to regurgitate a stereotype, not learn anything new about my culture. Neither one of us took the time to understand each other’s cultures because we believed the little understanding we had of them was enough to “tolerate” them. We should all try to learn what other people’s cultures mean to them.
From “Shattering stereotypes” by Lia Dun, 16, Marshall HS. First published September 2008
“I want you to do problem number five from tonight’s homework assignment right now,” my calculus teacher said. I started the problem but I got stuck on the first step. I had no idea what to do. “Why can’t I get this?” I kept thinking. I looked around and noticed only white and Asian students. Even my teacher was Japanese. Was I really the only Latino in the room? It can’t be, the magnet I’m in at Venice High is 43 percent Hispanic. I wondered why there weren’t more in my class. One of the students turned around and said, “That was easy, huh?” It seemed like I was the only one stuck. Was it because I’m Latino?
From “My race doesn’t hold me back” by Edgar Mejia, 17, Venice HS. First published March – April 2011
When I was reading these stories I could see the good that L.A. Youth has done. It provides the opportunity for teens struggling with their racial identities to share their lives with other teens. Knowing that there are others who have similar struggles makes you feel like you’re part of a community.
In “I’m American, I guess—or am I Chinese?” I could relate to figuring out how to fit in. I’m not exactly sure what I’d call myself. I came to the United States in 2008 from the Philippines. I’ve always just been Filipino but I don’t think that’s entirely adequate because I’ve been influenced more and more by American culture.
“Shattering stereotypes” is most relevant. There are still stereotypical jokes and the whole “Asians excel in academics” and “white people are rich” belief. Stereotypes should never define a race or culture. For Latinos, “My race doesn’t hold me back” is a major boost. If people share his doubts, it could inspire them.
I could relate to the recent stories more than the older ones. I don’t see teens struggling to find what it means to be black, like in “A darker shade of racism.” And we don’t have assemblies that share cultures that much. What I related to most about that story is the end where she was proud to know The Black National Anthem and sing along at the assembly. I could share her love of other cultures because I’m also really interested in other cultures.