December 13, 2019
After a full day of crying in English class because of her homework, eating a loaf of garlic-Parmesan bread, and winning her tennis match, West senior Eileen Zheng, born from Chinese parents, discussed the importance of being proud of who you are, even when you are not like everyone else.
“I don’t think [West] is super, super diverse. [But] I don’t think it’s like ‘ooh, there’s only one [minority] here.’ There’s a few, and we all know who we are.”
Being one of the “few” can mean having more of the attention on you in conversations of race. In Zheng’s case, it can also mean being the only one to stand up for your culture.
“Sophomore year during the Celebration of Words, I wrote a poem about being ashamed of my race in middle school,” Zheng says. “I would go home and I’d sit there and go ‘Wow, why am I the only Asian in the entire school? Why is this the way I am?’ People would stereotype me like that and make fun of the snacks I’d bring and I was ashamed of it. I’d go to the store with my parents and think ‘Wow, my mom can’t speak English. She can’t talk and everyone’s staring at us, this is so embarrassing. I don’t want to be like this.’, and I wrote a poem about how I went from hating the way I was to accepting myself the way I am, and how my parents were immigrants and came here and fought for a living, got a business, and now we have a family, and we’re fine.”
Even though she has come a long way with her self-acceptance, Zheng believes that both she and some of her peers have work to do.
“People don’t understand that we’re exactly the same,” Zheng explains. “They’re like ‘Oh, you’re different because you’re this, so you have to be this way. You’re this way because of that.’ and I’m like, there isn’t a ‘that way’… But, sometimes it does get to me. ”
Not having a support system is tough, and Zheng explains how she can’t go to her parents about subjects like these because there’s not much they can do about it. So, she instead emphasizes the significance of minorities being there for other minorities.
“We are all in this together. We are all a group, we all understand each other. That’s why I’m so close with a lot of the other minorities in the school. We know where the good boba shops are, we know where the food is at,” Zheng laughs.
For Zheng, open-mindedness does not just apply to race.
“As a society, and as a school, we need to stop being ignorant. We need to stop thinking that it’s okay to make jokes, even if there’s not a minority present. Minorities are people with disabilities too. They’re looked down upon for being different. I don’t think being different should be shamed.”