The following story comes from a guest contributor. All opinions in this article do not imply endorsement, recommendation, or approval from the AAMUnite team.
Written by Porntip.
Oh…no, honey. Trust me. You want to be White. So I nodded my head and agreed after fruitless attempts to awkwardly explain that my mom is White and that my dad is Thai. After all, she was one of our school counselors and she was trying to make things easier for me. That morning our teacher told us that we would each meet with a counselor on an individual basis to complete the demographic portion of our exam; that way, we wouldn’t have to bubble it in on test day.
In what turned out to be a two-minute conversation, the counselor tried to convince me that I wanted to be White. I settled on the fact that she must have had my best interest at heart. I certainly believed that to be true while I made the long walk back to my US History class. I tuned out the day’s lecture on post-Civil War Reconstruction and thought about it. Was I White? Was I Asian?Did she say Pacific Islander? Were there other options? Wasn’t there something that included more than one race? Who could I ask? Who could I trust to tell me the correct answer?
It didn’t matter. I had decided. I decided that I would refuse to take the exam unless they allowed me to choose which little bubble I wanted to fill in. It was my decision and I had decided that no one could make it for me.
I was never the student at the front of the line. You could usually find me somewhere in the middle. It served me well on test day because I could observe the check-in process before I reaching the front myself. I learned that we were standing in line to pick up our exam and that we had to verify the demographic information that had been completed electronically. There wasn’t a single soul in front of me that noticed an error in their demographic information. There was no one that requested an edit. There was no one else that had changed their mind about their race after meeting with the counselor. It was only me.
I stepped up to the table, cleared my throat and told one of the counselors there was an error on my form. It was embarrassing. It delayed the start of the exam and it caused a minor scene. But it worked. For the first time, I had the courage to tell an authority figure about my true self. I had the courage to tell an authority figure that I am Asian American. In that moment I learned that I had the power to use my voice to represent myself, my values, my heritage, and my community. It was then that I learned that I didn’t have to be what people expected of me based on my readable identity and that I could use my voice to stand for issues bigger than myself.
It was only two years later that my high school hosted a community rally for the 2008 general election. In November, I would be four months shy of 18 and unable to vote, but that day I heard a speech that peaked my political interest for the first time. Our guest spoke about improving public schools and eliminating financial barriers to college, protecting the rights of women, the LGBT community and People of Color, prioritizing innovative energy efficiency, and expanding access to health care and reproductive justice. This speech planted in me a seed of civic engagement.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was no stranger to Arkansas, where I went to high school. Since her speech in 2008, I have voted to support the progress of these issues. Next week I will use my voice to vote for the presidential candidate that I believe best represents me as an Asian American, my values, my heritage, and my community. And that’s’ why on November 8th, I am voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton.