Four times a year, we ask our readers to write about the impact recent stories have had on teens around the country. In Spring 2022, we had a range of responses from writers connecting to stories about family income, race, and fitting in. Congratulations to our winners and be sure to apply for our next contest for Summer 2022.
Luanne Curley-Perez, 16
10th grade, Applied Technology High School (Wallington, NJ)
Your Story Provides Hope, No Matter How Difficult Life Is
I was raised in a low-income Hispanic household, the youngest of four siblings and the first generation to grow up in the United States. The past few years I’ve been feeling a weight on my chest. Reading your story, “Should I Go To College Or Make Money?” I felt that someone feels the same bundle of anxiety as I do.
My mother lost her job when I was young, and has relied on disability payments ever since; we even lost our house in 2018. It terrified me and put my whole future in question. As you wrote about your father’s failed business, and learned what not to do from someone you saw as a role model, it made me think about my own situation. None of my siblings went to college, mainly because they never had the financial resources to do so. I now realize I’m going to be in the same position as them.
I’m currently looking for a job to start helping with rent, but my goal of becoming a child therapist is beginning to look more and more impossible. My role models are all people with broken hopes, and it almost feels like their doomed trajectory is impressed upon me. So I write to you knowing that you’re not the only person still confused about the path life has for you, and by sharing this with more people who may also be living with this anxiety, maybe it provides a little hope or even just peace of mind. Believe me, that one shred of hope can be the difference in traveling the right or wrong lane in the poorly structured highway called life.
Brielle Jihoo Kang, 16
9th grade, Cheshire Academy (Cheshire, CT)
I Want to Love Myself and My Korean Identity
I’m originally from South Korea, but I came to the states alone at 15 because I saw more opportunities and the kind of education system I want to thrive in. Though I wasn’t that popular in Korea, when I came here I changed from glasses to contact lenses, and from loose clothing to crop tops with leggings. The attention I received was so exciting that it had me wanting more. I dyed my hair so that I had streaks of blonde in between my black hair. I started wearing multiple coats of mascara and followed makeup routines that emphasized White features.
People asked me if I was from New York, because I “gave off that vibe.” I was told things like “You’re not like other Asian kids at our school,” or “You’re not mixed? What are you then?” A guy once told me that he liked me because I was “standard pretty” without actually being White, which made me “less basic.” People liked that I was different without being too different. And I sought validation from those comments. I loved being mistaken for a wasian girl. I’m extremely ashamed to admit that I wished I had “Brielle” as my real name, or anything that sounded less Asian than my real name, Jihoo.
Your article, “You’re So Pretty, You Must be Half-White,” made me rethink a lot of my secret opinions. I want to proudly introduce myself using both my given name and my English name. Being Asian and my Korean culture are parts of my identity, just like Jihoo is. I want people to love me for who I am, and more importantly I want to love myself—and to be proud of my Asian identity. Thank you for raising your voice about that pride, as I hope to do the same.
Hannah Park, 15
10th grade, Savannah Arts Academy (Savannah, GA)
Thank You for Showing Me I Can Change the Future
Dear S. G.,
Your story, “Bullying and Jealousy Made Me Into Someone I Didn’t Like” reminded me of myself in middle school. I’d always longed to be part of a group. In 7th grade, I managed to tag along with some popular girls, who unfortunately didn’t have much in common with me. I often felt left out, seeing group pictures without me on Instagram. Consequently, I felt pressured to keep up with the latest trends and act more sophisticated. I also started butting into their conversations and exaggerating my stories in an attempt to seem as cool as they were.
First I was invisible; then I was found to be somewhat annoying. The stress stemming from the desperation in getting them to like me was redirected on my family. I yelled at my little sisters and mom for the smallest things. Then the pandemic hit, school closed, and I felt more distanced than ever from my middle school peers.
School finally opened for in-person learning at the beginning of my sophomore year. I found myself in a new group of friends. It took time, but I started listening more and swallowed back the urge to make obnoxious commentary. I’d learned my lesson from middle school. As for those girls, I told myself I’d never hang around them again. Reading your confession has made me look back and realize that I should not resent them, but rather my indignant mindset. Thank you for writing your story. It assures me that though I cannot change the past, I can make better choices in the present.
Kesar Gaba, 17
12th grade, Richmond Hill High School
First of all, I would like to thank you for sharing your story, “Should I Go to College or Make Money?” It was heartbreaking to know what you went through. I come from a working-class family and my mom works tirelessly to make ends meet, whether it is paying rent or getting the groceries. As a senior in high school, I too thought about not going to college and instead spending time working to support my family. My dad can’t work because of a sickness, so my mom takes care of me, my younger sister, and him. Like you, I also don’t want to end up with college debt because the same has happened with my father. He had a flourishing business for a long time, but he fell ill and we lost so much in the financial crisis.
I want to go to college and study psychology. I want to help other people who are going through the same situation, to pass on help and spread awareness of the mental health toll of these situations. While reading your article, I learned that we can not always control everything, but we can always work hard to make our dreams a reality. That’s why I decided to work in the summer to pay for my college fees, because I truly want to make a difference. I was very touched and inspired by your story. The way you were keen on helping your family in any way you could even after going through so much at your workplace shows how resilient you are. Thank you for choosing to share your story.
As a biracial teenager, Vienna Du’s article “My Family Taught Me About My Roots” resonated with me, while opening my eyes to a pressing issue facing the Asian American community. Although I am the mixed daughter of a French-Italian man and a Vietnamese woman, I am admittedly far more educated in regard to White history.
For instance, each year since the 3rd grade, I have been rigorously schooled on the horrors of the Holocaust and the struggles faced by the Jewish community. However, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I learned of the unjust detainment of Asian Americans during World War II, which was heavily fueled by racism and xenophobia. I was largely led to believe that Americans—White Americans in particular—were the heroic saviors and protagonists of the war. Although Americans indeed played a major role in combating the evils of Hitler’s Germany, I grew up glorifying all aspects of White history, while willfully ignoring the story of my Asian heritage.
I eventually became more familiar with my Vietnamese culture by spending more time with my Asian relatives. For instance, similar to Ms. Du and her family, we celebrated Lunar New Year and passed out beautiful red envelopes with elaborate gold markings. Over time, not only did I become more educated on and interested in Asian history, but I also began to pick up on the anti-Asian racism rooted in our society. Suddenly, it became more difficult to ignore the frequent microaggressions and hateful comments disguised as harmless jokes, which further skyrocketed during the pandemic. In a society corrupted by racism and bigotry, exposing people to the insightful stories of Asian Americans like Ms. Du is critical to changing the narrative.
Your story, “Bullying and Jealousy Made Me Into Someone I Didn’t Like” really resonated with me. I have felt quite alienated since a young age, a result of losing many people close to me. What was the point of forming relationships with people if they were all going to end anyway? I thought.
As a result, I pushed people away because it felt easier than having to experience that same feeling of loss again. I convinced myself that I didn’t care about having friends and that I was actually above other people. I gave short responses, had limited facial expressions, and relied on humor that made fun of others.
Reading your story felt like I was reliving my own journey, as it wasn’t until high school when I realized the depth relationships can have and how much of myself I’d kept hidden away. I picked up on my “jokes” that were more rude than funny, and the lack of effort I put into relationships. It took a lot of reflecting and making an effort to show people that I care about them. It takes a lot to acknowledge your own faults, and I loved how well you addressed your gradual steps towards improvement. I sometimes still beat myself up over how I acted in the past, but your story reminded me how far I’ve come. It gave me hope that we can become better people day by day.