This essay, by an anonymous student from Regis Jesuit High School, is one of the top five finalists for our scholarship. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section below this post!
Growing up, I have always been very connected and aware of my culture and that of those around me. I spent the majority of my childhood in San Antonio, Texas, a community very ethnically diverse and rich in various cultures. In primary school, I participated in the city-wide Fiesta that takes place in May of each year, including day festivals, parades, and clothing that gave me a fuller understanding and wider view of Mexican culture around me. Throughout my childhood, I was immersed in culture, whether that be from my own Vietnamese heritage or that of my classmates and neighbors.
Early on in my childhood, I engaged in a Pow-wow, where each student learns about the various tribes in south and central Texas and about numerous factors in the Native American culture. We sampled and made traditional Native American foods, learned about teepee construction and life on the plains, and made our own versions of Native American dress and created our own tribes. We tea dyed shirts and added beads and feathers to emulate those around us, I was Jumping Dolphin. Contrary to common practice of learning about Native Americans only through Thanksgiving, I was taught that Native culture is so much more than one day a year. This passed on through primary school, where a fellow student and member of the Apache would often come in and preform tribal dances for the school; all of these fostered an accepting spirit and appreciation for other cultures around me early on.
There is also a very large Hispanic population in San Antonio, giving me an eye into a culture that I was not born with, but became a very important part of me. Texas history is very much intertwined with the Hispanic culture and as a result, I grew up in an environment very rich in Hispanic tradition. During Fiesta every year, a festival in honor of the battles at the Alamo and San Jacinto, the whole city gathers and celebrates the rich culture that San Antonio provides. I Diversity in Highlands Ranch experienced everything from traditional Mariachi bands, authentic Cuban, Spanish, and Mexican foods to traditional dress and language, all which enriched my understanding of the world as well as fostering a greater capacity to accept those from cultures that were not my own.
My family and I also frequently visited my dad’s relatives in Austin, a city which has a very large Vietnamese population. Being Vietnamese has also been an integral part of my identity and an aspect of my life that I have always been proud of. Going to my grandma’s house in Austin always entailed rich food, going to church entirely in Vietnamese, as my grandma lived behind the church, and watching endless reruns of Pokemon on VHS tapes when we got bored. Trips to the Asian market with Grandma always ended in Bin Bin crackers and yummy snacks to take home, like her egg rolls that every person needs to try at least once in their life. I also partook in Chinese New Year each year and attended the festivals at the church where I got to see Chinese dragon dancing by the local Sunday school. My Asian heritage has been a part of me that I am proud of and something that has shaped me as a person.
I did not realize this in the moment, but the small things about being so engrossed in these cultures set me up to be a more aware, accepting, and appreciative person as I grew older. Things like going to the grocery store and having signs in both Spanish and English, or having traditional foods and multicultural festivals regularly made things like ethnicity or race seem unimportant. Being in a community that did not just include different cultures but celebrated them and made it a point to highlight them gave me a broad perspective on the world around me and later set me up to be very passionate on issues of race, gender, and diversity in my community now. Having such a diverse and rich culture around me allowed me to come to value that same culture in my life as I continue onto higher education.
Having lived in San Antonio for the majority of my life, when I moved to Highlands Ranch, I noticed a significant lack of culture within the community. Highlands Ranch does an amazing job of creating a multifaceted community that offers parks, rec centers, and provides a healthy and positive neighborhood, but lacks that same cultural experience that I came to know. Highlands Ranch lacked not only racial diversity but also failed to acknowledge cultural diversity when present. I have noticed a considerable Indian and Middle Eastern population in Highlands Ranch, but have not seen outlets to celebrate it or educate the youth on it either. Colorado also has a prominent Native American presence, as seen through Arapahoe high school, the city of Pueblo, or some of the reservations in the greater Denver area. I believe that through things like getting Native Americans to educate the youth in festivals or going to schools could have a considerable effect on the diversification of Highlands Ranch and overall education of those who live here. Other events like multicultural festivals that include traditional food or music can also be a way to stimulate the local economy as well as a way to celebrate those who live in Highlands Ranch that feel may underrepresented.
I am very involved at my school in various diversity and social justice clubs and activism and a huge part of changing the conversation on issues such as ethnicity and race is education. People fear what they do not know, and highlighting different cultures is a way to educate without being forceful. I believe that the education of both the youth and general population in Highlands Ranch will be the first step in changing not just a community wide attitude but a nationwide one as well. I plan to take this passion for activism and diversity with me into higher education through various clubs and organizations at university.