A Minority’s Point of View

Students and teachers discuss being in the minority or majority in the Bay Area


Laasya Koduru and Stuti Upadhyay

Senior Jade Tsao is passionate about connecting with her African-American culture. She reads books about African-American history, gets involved with protests and movements like Black Lives Matter and loves to talk to her dad about her culture. Ethnically, Tsao has been a minority in her community for most of her life. And although she believes being a minority is difficult, it has made her more passionate about her culture.

According to Monta Vista’s 2017-18 school profile, MVHS is 83 percent Asian. And as with any majority, it can be easy to forget the voices of the minorities in a population.

Tsao moved from MVHS to Dougherty Valley HS in San Ramon the summer before her junior year, and she recalls that it was difficult. Tsao’s father is Nigerian, and her mother is half Chinese and half Korean.

Tsao admits that there were few people she could relate to from her African-American side, but of those few people whom she could, she felt an instant connection. Tsao explains that being ethnically different from people around her often meant that they didn’t quite understand certain parts of her culture.

“Sometimes you feel misunderstood, and… you can’t really change the way things are because it’s just the way things are,” Tsao said. “Then sometimes you feel like people just stereotype you and put you in a box and put you in a label.”

Tsao believes that it can be intimidating to be different when everyone else seems so similar, especially because it is often easier to identify and connect with people who share similar experiences. According to Tsao, people often underestimate how hard it can be for minorities to integrate into a different society.

“You have to push harder to get certain things because high school can be cliquey, even at DVHS, even at MVHS,” Tsao said. “It’s like, you see groups where a majority of the people are one racial group. And they stick together. So if you think about it, it’s kind of harder for [a] minority to walk in.”

English teacher Elly Brown echoes a similar sentiment about the difficulties minorities face in connecting with others. Brown transitioned from teaching at San Benito HS in Hollister, Calif. to MVHS two years ago. One of the biggest changes Brown experienced was the cultures of both schools.

According to Brown, whereas SBHS was a smaller, less academically-driven school with a 65 percent Latino and Hispanic population, MVHS is a much larger, grade-focused school with a 83 percent Asian population. Because her mom is from Mexico, as a child, Brown grew up speaking Spanish and in-tune with Mexican culture, which led to a very comfortable and familiar environment at SBHS.

“I had a different connection, I think, with students at that school because I was able to speak with some of their parents in Spanish, or connect with them on a cultural level that I haven’t been able to as much here at Monta Vista,” Brown said.

She explains that being a minority also means people may not understand the cultures of community members that well, something that became more apparent to her after she moved from SBHS to MVHS.

“I don’t have as much knowledge about different cultural holidays or events that students participate in and that’s something that I’m learning still,” Brown said. “So I can’t really relate because I haven’t had those experiences and it’s not that I don’t connect with my students, it’s just that maybe on a cultural level, I’m still learning about them and learning about their cultures.”

Similar to Brown and Tsao, history teacher David Hartford faced a difficult time moving to the Bay Area, as it took for him time to adapt to the new environment. Raised in a small town in rural Michigan, Hartford developed close connections with those in his vicinity, his family members or relatives. For him, moving to California was a big change socially and emotionally, since there is more diversity in California.

“The biggest thing for me was that the political and ideological differences were very stark for me,” Hartford said. “In rural Michigan, everyone in my family was stringent, religious, conservative and Evangelical conservatives. That is kind of what I grew up in and I traveled a lot before moving to California, and I had built this diversity into my own ideology, but being able to have so much diversity in one location is truly amazing.”

Although senior Adamya Srivastava, who moved from Texas to Cupertino in the summer of 2016, agrees with Hartford on the advantages of diversity, he also explains that cultural similarities can help create a shared foundation when meeting new people for the first time, whereas minorities often have to try harder to acclimate to the people around them.

“Personally, I found that if you share a demographic with someone, you probably have a few common bonds or you have a few common experiences in family, culture and work ethic that you may not necessarily find [with others] because it’s like a shared background,” Srivastava said. “And this supersedes state lines. I instantly found many people, people like those I knew in Texas were Asian in [MVHS], so that made the transition easier getting to know people.”

Even though adjusting to a new environment with more diversity can be difficult, Hartford believes lots of diversity in one area can have its advantages.

“[In Michigan], we didn’t have that kind of diversity but it kind of opens up so many different options — ideological viewpoints, even restaurants and food and things to do,” Hartford said.
“Having that massive amount of people all in one location really opens up possibilities for many different communities.

Tsao agrees, adding that being a minority is a unique opportunity to gain a new understanding of different people, comparing it to a bridge between two different cultures. Often times, Tsao would educate her friends as to what being a minority is like or what her African-American culture entails, hopefully imprinting a lasting understanding on them.

“Some of my friends, I remember that they would say things like you’re only half black … but  wouldn’t really resonate with me because that’s not my identity,” Tsao said. “I’m not only half this, only half that — I’m a whole person.”

Brown believes minorities can not only help broaden the views of those around them but can also broaden their own views during a transition, as she did after coming to Monta Vista. After leaving her old teaching environment and becoming the new teacher on the block, Brown explains that she gained a new perspective as to how newcomers and minorities feel.

“It helps me be a little bit more empathetic to those people who maybe are new and are a minority,” Brown said. “And it encourages me to be a little more thoughtful and considerate of where they are and how they’re feeling.”

Srivastava agrees, remembering when he moved to Texas from India. As a newcomer in America and a foreigner to certain American customs, Srivastava’s position as a minority helped him adapt to his new life.

“[As a minority], you can have a critical eye and make sure you’re looking to adopt the best behaviors and work ethics of different kinds of people around you,” Srivastava said. “When I first moved to Texas, I don’t know a lot about Americans in general, so as a minority, I made sure to pay attention to what people did — how they spoke, what their idioms were.”

Overall, Tsao believes she has learned countless things from being a minority, and even if it’s difficult, she encourages other minorities to find their own path by making their voices heard and defining their own identity.

You’re different and being different is always going to catch people’s attention. You might as well use that to your benefit,” Tsao said. “If anything… share your experience with people if they ask, or if it comes up in conversation. Don’t be afraid to … challenge some people’s ideas of what they may think your minority groups are like how they might stereotype your minority group. Every time you may speak up, it may not change a … person’s view. But one day you will speak up and you will say the right thing and somebody will gain something and learn something from that.”