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Not the ‘smart Asian girl’ anymore: How I learned that everyone has a different story and started…

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Not the ‘smart Asian girl’ anymore: How I learned that everyone has a different story and started…

Junior Giping Huang shares how she learns of her individuality through other students.

Junior Giping Huang shares how she learns of her individuality through other students.

Ciara Kosai

Junior Giping Huang shares how she learns of her individuality through other students.

Ciara Kosai

Ciara Kosai

Junior Giping Huang shares how she learns of her individuality through other students.

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I admit it. I, like many other Asians, like boba. In case you don’t know, boba is milk tea with chewy tapioca balls. Just in San Francisco alone, there are over 100 boba shops. But to me, all boba taste the same no matter where it’s from. And in the same way, I had always thought I was not special, that I was just like one of the many boba shops in San Francisco.

I thought of myself as a typical Asian girl in San Francisco. I didn’t see myself as an individual with any unique traits.

In fourth grade, I did a school activity where I had to come up with adjectives using the letters of my name that described me. Instead of describing myself with extraordinary adjectives, I used common words: good, intelligent, polite, invisible, nice, and girl. My teacher laughed because I described myself just as a girl when I could have been great, giant, or genius. Somehow, even back in fourth grade, I thought of myself as a typical Asian girl in San Francisco. I didn’t see myself as an individual with any unique traits.

During middle school, I lived up to the stereotypes of being Asian: I had a 4.0 GPA throughout all three years and almost only Asian friends, attended Chinese school, and dreamt of being a doctor. Growing up, my parents would always jokingly compare me and my siblings and ask who was the smartest, or which one of us would bring in the most money and provide for the family financially. I never thought of what I, Giping Huang Zheng, wanted to do with my life for myself. I just thought of what my parents wanted for me. I formed an expectation for myself that I should get a 4.0 and go to Stanford and become a doctor based off of my parents’ expectations for me.

Everyone in Lowell seemed more extraordinary and smarter and better than me. I couldn’t see myself as the “smart Asian girl” in school anymore, and I felt overwhelmingly alone and lost.

But from the moment I got into Lowell, my self-image started to fall apart. Because I attended a middle school where I did not have to work hard to achieve high grades, I was not used to actually studying for tests and doing homework at home. I no longer had a 4.0 and started to get Bs and Cs. My middle school friends that came to Lowell were in different classes than I was in, and I had not made a single new friend yet. Lowell has a student population of 2,700, and the halls and classes were crowded with potential friends. But in that year, I hated every second I was in school and I felt alone. Every day seemed like “hell” day and every day was never a good day. I didn’t know what to do.

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I never told anyone how I felt or looked for guidance. All of the pressure eventually built up and I broke down during my freshman year second semester. On the day of my break-down, I fell asleep in the library and woke up in a daze. My head felt hot, I had a headache, and my surroundings seemed to be spinning, but I still decided to go to my Modern History class. When I arrived to class, I was already 20 minutes late and I couldn’t concentrate; my head was pounding every minute. I put my head down and silently cried because I did not feel well and I felt extremely alone at that moment. When class was finally over, my sleeve was soaked with tears. I quietly wiped my tears off the table and left the classroom without ever telling my teacher what happened. Everyone in Lowell seemed more extraordinary and smarter and better than me. I couldn’t see myself as the “smart Asian girl” in school anymore, and I felt overwhelmingly alone and lost.

My grades were dropping and my relationship with my parents worsened. I found it harder and harder to talk with them, partly because of a language barrier. Although I know how to speak Toishanese, it was broken, meaning that I mixed in English with my Chinese. And worse of all, my parents did not know any English. Chinese was our only way of communication. The worries and frustrations that I wanted to voice to my parents could not be expressed. My parents are immigrants and never finished high school. They did not understand how hard it was for me. All they saw were Bs and Cs on my report card and they blamed it on me for not working hard enough. Instead of asking for help from anyone, I just trudged on freshman year by crying behind doors, studying, and keeping to myself.

They did not understand how hard it was for me. All they saw were Bs and Cs on my report card and they blamed it on me for not working hard enough.

I did have one interesting fact about myself: I was born in Venezuela. People would always be shocked when I tell them that I was born in Venezuela and then they would ask me if I knew Spanish. My first word was aqua, but, no, I don’t know Spanish because I was shipped off, metaphorically, alone without my family to China to live with my aunt. My mom could not take care of me and my older brother and be pregnant with my younger sister simultaneously.

When I was three years old, I went back to Venezuela to live with my family. When I met my mom for the first time in years, I cried because I thought she was not my real mom and I wanted my aunt back. During my time away from Venezuela, my family’s Chinese restaurant became successful and my family’s living situation improved. Our apartment had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen that connected to our big living room and dining room, but it was also home to many cockroaches — the ones that could fly were a new level of horror. One time, my siblings and I were in the kitchen and there was a cockroach. My brother tried to kill it with a flip flop, but it started flying. We were so terrified that we hid inside my mom’s bedroom for an hour, eating snack bags of fruit loops as we huddled together like little sheeps.

When we went outside on our balcony, the sound of street vendors selling their clothes, shoes and food could be heard. When we looked all the way down from our tenth floor, in every street corner, there were ladies that sold street food such as empanadas, tequenos and arepas. Stray dogs would often walk around in search of an accidentally dropped foods such as carne empanadas.

However, I did not spend my entire childhood in Venezuela because my family decided to leave and immigrate to the United States when I was five since my grandma was there. To this day, my dad, aunts and uncles would fly back and forth to Venezuela every six months, bringing back sweets such as Cocosette and Pirulin for me and my siblings every time.

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No one would think of this when they see me. Most probably would think that I was born in San Francisco; they wouldn’t expect me to be born in Venezuela, or my family to own a Chinese restaurant there, or that one of my favorite food is my mom’s homemade arepas. Despite everyone’s surprised reaction to this fact when I tell them, I never thought that this or my life was interesting until my Advanced Placement World History teacher shared his interest in my background. His interest began when I discussed with him about my comparative essay where I had to compare and contrast my culture with my partner’s. My discussion with him made me realize that I was different than other people and that I do have interesting aspects of myself. I began to change. I began to see that I am not a stereotypical Asian in the vast population of Lowell.

It frightened me that I didn’t see the point in working hard for my future.

While I began to change my perspective of myself, I continued to have inner conflicts about my life during junior year. I realized that I didn’t want to be the expectations that my parents enforced upon me. I didn’t want to be a doctor, engineer or accountant anymore — I didn’t even like math or science. Without their expectations, I no longer knew what I wanted to do with my future. My parents were no longer involved in my academic life. They didn’t know if I finished my homework, if I was late to school, or if I failed a test. They were no longer a motivation for me to work hard, and instead of working harder during my junior year, I began to not care about my future. Every day, I would come back home and just sleep until 12 a.m. and do my homework the day before or the day it was due or just not show up to class at all. It frightened me that I didn’t see the point in working hard for my future.

But one day, I talked to my counselor and she opened my eyes. She told me that she didn’t want me to limit myself because of my grades or the amount of money I had. She assured me that although there are many students who know what they want to do, there are many more who are in the same boat as I am and are also as uncertain. She told me that I didn’t have to decide what I wanted to major in the moment I got into a college, and even if I did pick a major, colleges understand that most students don’t know what they want to do with the rest of the lives and the first two years of college are general education courses that all students have to take. After my talk with my counselor, I began to see the people who are willing to help me and the opportunities for my future.

If someone were to ask me to describe myself with the letters of my name now, I would say that I am great, important, powerful, interesting, nonconforming, and gregarious.

Even though I saw myself as an individual and not just Asian, what really changed my way of thinking about being Asian in Lowell was my involvement in journalism, or more specifically my involvement in the cover story about the model minority myth. I interviewed many other Asian students about their experience growing up and about their experience at Lowell. Before, being Asian to me meant that people did not see me as a person with my own individual thoughts, feelings and aspirations; I was stuck thinking that I was the same as the next Asian student. But after interviewing students, I realized that, as cliché as it is, everyone is special and different and that there is no stereotypical Asian at Lowell.

Although almost everyone at Lowell who I interviewed had struggled or is struggling with expectations, pressures, and stereotypes held by their family, themselves or the world, all of them were unique and had a unique story to tell. Some were half-Japanese and half-Chinese who, during the summer, would go to Japan to study, some were recent immigrants, and some had family with a legacy of being Lowell graduates. It really opened my eyes that although the world thinks that we are all the same, I knew that everyone had a different story. In some ways, I became to feel less like an outsider at Lowell and began to feel like I was part of the Lowell community.

If someone were to ask me to describe myself with the letters of my name now, I would say that I am great, important, powerful, interesting, nonconforming, and gregarious. My name is Giping Huang Zheng. I was born in Venezuela. I have a brother name Liping and a sister name Viviana. I am Asian but I am not the dozen boba shops in San Francisco because I represent more than that.

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