growing up as a minority in the south.

by Esther Gao

America is considered a country of diversity and opportunity, where many immigrants of different backgrounds come to seek a new life, like my own parents, who are Chinese immigrants. They raised me in Nashville, Tennessee, and I attended an IB elementary school, where I saw people of different backgrounds and cultures on a daily basis. Diversity was the norm, and so I naturally accepted it. Nashville also has a large Chinese population, so I grew up embracing my Chinese heritage. I spent lots of time around people of my own ethnicity, and I fit in and felt comfortable, but that would not last.

I moved to Miami when I was eleven, and I soon realized on my first day of sixth grade that I was living in an area with almost no Asian people. The only other Asian person in my school was a girl in my grade with whom I instantly became friends. Unfortunately, we only saw each other in our shared art class and in the hallways, making me the lone Asian kid for the most part. I immediately experienced race-based bullying during my first few weeks at my new school. A small group of boys in a different grade who I did not know would pick on me and try to annoy me after school, which I had never experienced before. It hurt me, but I ignored them. Thankfully, in my classes, I was not treated any differently. However, I was stereotyped to be the “smart Asian” because I always did well in my classes. The same year, my parents had me apply to a much better, private school for seventh grade. I did not realize it at the time, but I had subconsciously let go of my Chinese pride to try to fit in with the crowd. My parents tried to get me to take Chinese at my new school, but I refused. I did not want to be identified with my heritage, so I chose to take French instead. Fortunately, the kids at my private school were open-minded, and I finally felt as though I fit in. However, every time I was associated in any way with being Asian, I felt uncomfortable. I hated speaking Chinese on the phone in front of my friends; I hated being called out by my history teacher during our section on Chinese history; I hated others asking to hear me speak Chinese; I even hated when the Chinese teacher, who I knew because we attended the same church, talked to me when I passed her in the hallways. I had completely let go of my Chinese identity in order to feel like I fit in.

I moved away from Miami after eighth grade to come to Houston. At the time I felt dejected from leaving many good friends, but I had no idea how good it really was for me. Living in such a diverse city like Houston and going to an IB school again has helped me regain my pride in my culture and heritage, and I no longer feel uncomfortable speaking Chinese wherever and whenever. I have learned that diversity is important in order to keep others from being prejudiced against certain cultures and ethnicities they most likely are just not used to, and to make sure people of all sorts of backgrounds and ethnicities feel comfortable in their skin and do not feel ashamed to be different.


about the author

Esther Gao - City Rep. Houston

Esther Gao is a student at the Awty International School of Houston. She shares a story of her childhood and current life living in the south of the United States as a Chinese-American. She recognizes the differences in acceptance through moving throughout different states, but now settles in Houston, one of the most diverse cities in America. Through living in Houston, she found the ability to embrace her Chinese culture and is encouraged to do so in an international school.