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Racial Awareness at CHS

Daniel Tkach

Jennifer Zaratan

Daniel Tkach teaches Freshman Lit/Writ and VMC. He has been working at Tino for two years.

Q: What race do you identify as? 

I would identify my race as white. My ancestry comes from Ukraine and Ireland, so [I am] half Ukrainian and a quarter Irish.

Q: Growing up, did you notice differences in the way people treated you, or others around you, because of race?

I think I did not realize how important race was in everyone’s daily life, until [around] high school to college. Being a white person, oftentimes you have the privilege not to have to think about race, so until it was brought to my attention that this was an issue that is important, I walked through life unaware of it. 

Q: When you came to Tino, did you notice race and racism playing a role our interactions?

I think race does play a role in my daily life, as well as students’ daily life here in Cupertino. For example, being a white male you get the benefit of the doubt sometimes, or you are given expertise in things you do not have expertise in. I think that that is true here as well as in many places. I think that it is unique in Cupertino where both the city and the school have an Asian American majority. Being white is being part of a racial minority, whereas in the larger region, city, and country, being white is being part of the majority. So you navigate between both of those and I think for myself it is kind of interesting to see both of those. However, having grown up in a mostly white community and living in a mostly white society, I think that even though I am a minority in this school, I still have access to a lot of the privileges that come with being the majority for most of society. 

Q: Can you elaborate on how the privileges of being white change when you’re in a predominantly Asian American community?

I think anybody who is in a majority group has the privilege of seeing a lot of people like them and not necessarily having the burden to be the voice of their race, sexuality or people. I think that is true for any kind of majority group, and some of the dynamics are different here in Cupertino because of the racial breakdown, but I think that feeling is still similar. For example, if you turn on the TV, you are probably going to see a wide range of straight actors in roles, whereas the roles of LGBTQ people on TV are more limited. The same thing with race and with other types of identities. 

Q: Has race ever been an obstacle for you?

I think it’s been an obstacle in the sense that by being white, part of that history is one of ignorance to some degree, and so you don’t get a lot of practice talking about race growing up. While I think there are a lot of privileges and benefits that come with it, I think one of the obstacles is you don’t get practice thinking and talking about race in the same way that, for example, I had about gender. I talked about gender and gender differences and things like that, whereas I don't think I had as much practice talking about what it meant to be white in contemporary America. 

Q: What are your thoughts on how race plays a role in our interactions at Cupertino and is there something in particular that we can work on?

I think that race is something that affects people’s day-to-day life, regardless of how much they’re aware of it. I think that it’s something that students are thinking about and dealing with, and so it should be part of our curriculum. It should be part of our day-to-day interactions and discussions that we talk about. I think that we have to create spaces where students from diverse backgrounds and different perspectives can come together to share their experiences and feel legitimate in that space. 

Q: Sometimes there’s this belief that stereotypes aren’t harmful if they’re said by the people who they’re against, so do you think it matters who’s saying the stereotype?

Sometimes I hear phrases like “that’s just kids being kids,” or “boys being boys” or just phrases like that. I take offense at that because what matters isn’t so much the intention so much as the outcome. If it’s offensive, it’s offensive. I think it’s easy to hide behind phrases like “kids being kids,” but in fact, saying things that are offensive or hiding under a racial joke, is actually a harmful thing to do. I think that it’s important that we create a culture where insensitivity is not part of the norm, where we want to respect and celebrate the differences that we bring. 

Q: In your opinion, is there such thing as a stereotype we can laugh at?

I think it’s important to be able to laugh and to laugh with other people. Part of celebrating our differences is to laugh at our differences. Having said that, I think that you need to be able to change your mind about things. You might have a stereotype about what it means to be a Cupertino student, or what it means to be an African American, or what it means to be a female teenager or things like that, but then when you meet people, you need to be able to change your mind about it. Part of it is, yeah, we should celebrate and enjoy and find interest in those differences, but also we should be able to change our mind of, “Hey, wow that stereotype isn’t very accurate.” Maybe for some people it is, and it does hold true, but it seems like we have to be able to change our minds about it. 

Q: How do you make that distinction between stereotypes we can laugh at and stereotypes that shouldn’t be said and are harmful?

I think that it’s more about the idea of understanding that a stereotype is inherently an oversimplification, and so it’s impossible not to be affected by stereotypes. [Like racism], we breathe it and internalize it, whether we want to or not. To me, it’s not so much the distinction of whether something is an okay stereotype to laugh at and that’s a not-okay stereotype to laugh it. It’s more about acknowledging it so that we can move past it, because if that’s all you see another person, as a stereotype, then I won’t be able to fully understand who they are as people. I think it’s like it’s not so much about distinguishing between good and bad stereotypes, but more about moving on, from all these stereotypes. 

Q: How can we as individuals go about fighting racism and working to make sure that we’re not discriminating against others?

I think this is a good question because it takes personal responsibility in it. I would say a couple of things: one is that it’s important for people to know that pretending not to see race doesn’t make it go away. Color-blindness isn’t a real solution to our problems. I think it’s also important that you actively seek out and listen to perspectives that are different than your own so that you break out of your bubble. If you’re an Asian American, and all your friends are Asian American, then you need to break out and listen to the experiences of people who are a different race. I think in doing that, you will find small day-to-day acts that help promote a better, more equitable culture, instead of necessarily grand acts of civil disobedience or things like that. Those are also really important, but I think that for a lot of people, the small steps are more viable.

Q: What are some times that you have felt discriminated against?

Most of the experiences I’ve faced where I felt like I was either ostracized or deliberately discriminated against actually have come in different areas outside of Cupertino. When I lived abroad before, I remember feeling very aware of my nationality and my appearance and things like that. There were a couple of times where it was not a benefit, and a couple when they were.

Q: What are your thoughts on the saying, racism doesn’t or does “go both ways” (meaning, racism is not the same for different races, and there are certain types of racism that cannot be experienced by both the majority and the minority)? 

I think it’s important when thinking about a phrase like that to think about individual versus institutional racism. So I think you can have any sort of discrimination on an individual level, but the difference between an institutional level is the power: the history and the logistics of who has power to implement their beliefs. Institutionally, there’s still a large pattern of bias happening, and so I think it’s important to take whatever kind of individual actions there are and put them into the context of the larger issue. Looking at who gets a larger sentencing, or gets stopped by cops, or has access to resources, for food, tuition, housing, yes, individual acts of reverse racism certainly are true and happen, but I think they happen within the larger context of institutional racism. I think that is the more important one to break down rather than just the individual [instances of racism]. 


Kimaya Goomer

Ethan Qi

Kimaya Goomer, Junior

Kimaya Goomer, Junior

Q: What ethnicity are you?

A: I am Indian, originally from India.

Q: How do you think your ethnicity has affected the way you grew up?

A: My family is super culture-oriented, so I was in a lot of heritage organizations and they have been a pretty big part of my life. I would say I’m pretty connected—we celebrate all the holidays, and I do the whole thing where I’m vegetarian on certain days. It’s affected my life a lot, and it has really affected what values I hold and my actions too.

Q: Did you develop a certain mindset about your race and about other races based on the way you were brought up or based on the culture you were supposed to adopt when you were younger?

A: Until I was around five, I pretty much thought everybody was Indian because when I was little, we lived in a very Indian apartment complex. Everyone I knew was Indian, and when I went out and found out that not everybody speaks the same languages I do, it was a little weird. But it also opened my mindset. However, when I went to school, I was exposed to a lot of stereotypes, and I realized a lot of people had these stereotypes about Indians. One girl in first grade asked me, “You’re Indian right? So you don’t take baths?” She thought Indian people didn’t take baths, and I was like, “What?!” It was really crazy.

Q: Do you notice anything happening with race in high school at the moment?

A: What I’ve noticed is that a lot of Indian people try not to be Indian. They don’t think of it as a good thing, and they want to be more like everyone else. For example, when the Bollywood Club dances, some Indian people will straight up talk about them in a negative way. You don’t see people doing that to Korean Club. People in Korean Club are proud to be in the club, and they have a lot of supporters. People don’t really support Bollywood Club. They’re like, “Oh, look at them, they’re so Indian.”

Q: Do you think this is a trait unique to Indian heritage and culture here?

A: No, I feel like it’s pretty common everywhere because a lot of people have grown up trying to be, I don’t want to say this, but, “whitewashed.” They want to fit in and the only way they can fit in is by being someone else. You hear a lot of people say, “You smell like curry,” or, “Does your house smell like curry?” and, “Why is your hair so oily?”  It’s just that when people hear that, they feel attacked. So they try to exemplify someone else or some other race so they don’t hear those kinds of things.

Q: You’re really proud of being Indian and so how does this affect your daily life? Do you do anything in specific to reaffirm yourself that you should be proud of your culture?

A: Yes, I’m Indian, and I make Indian jokes about myself. Because honestly, it’s not something that should be thought of in a negative way, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of it. I bring Indian food to school everyday—-that’s how I’ve been raised, to be proud of who I am. Indian culture is really rich. We go back thousands of years, and a lot of the things we see today come from India. Here’s an example: when I talk to my Indian friends, they’ll be like, “Indian food is so gross. It has too much spice,” etc. But when you go out and talk to everyone else and ask if they want Indian food, they respond with, “YES, I want Indian food so bad.” It’s something that you should be proud of and I just tell myself that, as an Indian, sometimes people say negative things to you, but you shouldn’t let other people change who you are.

Q: Are there any other obstacles that you face in life, maybe instances of minor racism?

A: Not too much. You could take something like dressing. Usually Indian people are considered more conservative and coming from a more conservative Indian family, you won’t see me walking around in short shorts ever. Pretty much everything I wear isn’t above the knee. That’s just my family, and sometimes I do wish I could wear short shorts, but this is who I am. Sometimes, I feel I might not fit in with the fashion trends, but it’s honestly okay because I’m comfortable in what I’m wearing. If people don’t like me because of what I wear, I honestly don’t want to be friends with them.

Q: If you had the ability to, what would you tell your younger self, if anything at all?

A: When I was younger, yes I didn’t know that not everyone was Indian, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s because I went out and I learned that, “Whoa, not everyone is Indian and there are different ethnicities.” I think I learned it at the right time. It’s really important to feel relatable and safe when you’re young and if that meant I thought everyone was Indian, so be it.

Q: If you could change one thing about our community, what would it be?

A: I just want people to be proud of who they are, because it makes me really sad to see that, most of the time, people that are talking badly about Indian people are Indian themselves. It’s like, “Why are you trying to hide it?” You can't change the color of your skin and you can’t change your heritage. If you are Indian and people say bad things about you, just brush it off and be proud of who you are. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Julie Hoang

Aishwarya Laddha

Julie Hoang, incoming Senior

Julie Hoang, incoming Senior

Julie Hoang has been a secretary for Class Council and is involved with DECA, fashion club  and VSA.

Q: What ethnicity are you?

A: Vietnamese.

Q: How did your ethnicity affect the way you grew up?

A: It didn’t really affect me personally; I never faced any personal form of discrimination. Growing up, I lived in Singapore, and I thought the population there would include more Chinese and Malaysians, but I went to an “American” school, so there were a lot more Caucasian kids. I was kind of the outcast. I only lived there for two or three years, but even then I didn’t face direct discrimination. But I definitely did feel like the outsider there.

Q: How did your experiences in Singapore translate to your experiences here?

A: Well, I was born here for starters. I went to Sedgwick Elementary School, so transitioning back here I was a lot more comfortable. I’m not saying I was glad that I was part of the majority race here, but it definitely did make me feel more confident in ways. I could find people of the same ethnicity to relate to and talk about stuff that people of other cultures maybe wouldn’t understand.

Q: Did you ever notice any differences in the way others treated you as a child versus someone else?

A: Not growing up in my neighborhood in Singapore nor here, but when I would travel to visit my family in Texas and West Virginia [. . .], the majority of the population there was Caucasian and African-Americans, so there would be times where I would feel discriminated. It wasn’t that my family would get treated differently directly but when, I remember in 7th grade, my family and I would go to the mall in West Virginia, and my mother would ask, “how much is this bag,” and the [sales associates] would say the price and add, “Sorry there is no discount on this,” because you know, that's a stereotype about Asians.

Q: Did you develop a certain mindset about your race or other races based on your upbringing or experiences?

A: When I came back I started hanging out with Asians, kids of the same ethnicity as me, but for a lot of them, I feel, some people would call them “white-washed.” Especially after transitioning into middle school, people assimilate, trying to fit into society and the norms. I was not necessarily embarrassed of my ethnicity, but I didn’t embrace my culture either.

Q: Do you feel like, looking back, you would want to do something differently?

A: To make up for my middle school years when I was not really embracing my culture, I would have joined clubs such as VSA and International Club earlier to really get a sense of my culture.

Q: Has race ever been an obstacle for you?

A: I think, personally for me, it didn’t restrict me from opportunities when people were discriminating against me. I think it was more of my own mentality that restricted me. I would tell myself that because I’m Asian, stereotypically I was born short, so I couldn’t try out for a particular sport, so restrictions like that were more from my own mentality.

Q: Do you think this self imposed mentality comes because of societal pushes?

A: For the most part, definitely, from stereotypes, social media, and tv shows—the way the media portrays particular races. Even though sometimes what the media says is not meant to be offensive, it still invokes this mentality in a way.

Q: Cupertino is very diverse, in comparison to most places; what benefits and/or drawbacks do you see to having this mix of ethnicities?

A: I guess one drawback is that, especially when we leave for college, for those venturing out in the real world, it’s going to be difficult for them to assimilate into communities that are not as diverse and accepting as we are.

Q: Have you ever noticed any instances of subconscious racism within our Cupertino community?

A: Yes, I have, but they usually aren’t meant with bad intentions, but even among friends we make jokes, like, “you’re asian which means that you have good grades,” or, “you’re caucasian which means that your parents don’t care.” I think we tell ourselves that these are made for fun. Personally, I don’t find them offensive, but I can see how people can take it offensively. I feel like jokes like these don’t come with bad intentions.

Q: Have you ever felt discriminated or singled out for your race?

A: Not necessarily.

Q: Have you ever noticed other people getting singled out?

A: I never saw it directly or personally, but I do get the sense that it does happen. I’m not saying it is acceptable, but racism still exists out there. In our community, I’ve never seen it, though; I guess that is because we are so diverse for the most part, we are very open, very liberal.

Q: How do you think you’ve developed your cultural identity living in Cupertino versus if you had lived in a much less diverse community?

A: I think because we are in such a diverse community, we embrace a lot more clubs on campus such as International Club. We hold international week, which is really great for encouraging people to have a sense of pride in their cultures. There is this Vietnamese town in San Jose, called Tully, and it has a lot of community events, especially during Lunar New Year. So living in this community as compared to living somewhere else definitely allowed me to embrace my culture because there are so many opportunities to be exposed to it.

Q: If you could go back to talk to your younger self, what would you tell your younger self?

A: Don’t be embarrassed, embrace your culture. I would tell my 6th grade self that you don’t have to assimilate yourself to fit in with other people.


Kami Tomberlain

Lily Marvin

Kami Tomberlain worked in Union City California Richmond California before arriving at Cupertino High, where she has worked for the past nine years. She grew up in Texas and attended Texas Tech University.


Q: What is your ethnicity?

A: I am white, originally from Texas.


Q: How did your ethnicity influence your childhood?

A: I grew up in a small town in the south. The first year I started school was the first year in my hometown that the schools were fully integrated. Even though Brown vs. Board of education happened in the 1950s, my town didn’t have full integration until 1970. Before that, there had only been a few volunteer schools that were integrated. In my town my classmates were about fifty percent white and fifty percent black. The wasn’t much additional variety.


Q: When did you first begin to notice race?

A: All the kids in my school grew up together. We went to school together and played together on the playground. It did not really matter what race they were. As I got older I started to realize that we never really saw each other outside of school. For example, we had separate churches, and the black kids weren’t allowed to swim in the pool or play on our little league teams. When you’re a little kid you don’t really notice that, but as I got into junior high and high school that became very obvious. My parents were both teachers, and they had teaching friends that were both black and white, so I had grown up with this integrated experience. I remember when I was in middle school I was out on the playground with some of the girls on the sports team. One of the African-American girls said something about being baptized over the weekend at the Omaha First Baptist. I said, “Oh, that’s where I was baptized too.” She asked, “You were baptized at the black church?” I said, “No, I was baptized at First Baptist Omaha.” She said, “No, there’s a difference.” See, Omaha First Baptist was largely African-American, and First Baptist Omaha was mostly white. Before that it had never really occurred to me that [the churches were separated].


Q: How have you noticed racism at our school?

A: At our school what I notice most is that there are stereotypes people hold about other races or even of their own race that can get in the way of really knowing people. It can stop us from seeing each other as individuals. Unfortunately, this can lead to some unthinking comments that may not be meant to hurt someone but still do. These include things like people being surprised to see someone in an AP class. I see that at our school quite a bit. I don’t see a lot of what I consider meanness of spirit or ugliness about race. I’ve been in schools where two different ethnic groups would square off against each other in terms of violence. I’ve been in those environments and I don’t feel like we have that level of animosity. However, I do think that we sometimes let stereotypes get in the way of really seeing each other and appreciating each other.


Q: What do you think we can do to fix this problem?

A: One of the things we can do is call each other on it when we hear it. We should be able to say, “Wow, that’s a big statement!” It doesn’t even have to be, “you’re being racist,” but saying something like, “that’s hurtful,” could help. If that is done casually among the students I think that could be really beneficial. I think finding ways to get to know one another and cross group is great. I see a lot of that. I see friendship groups that cross many different races which I think is really awesome. Getting involved in different clubs and school programs or even with the class can force you to put yourself out there in ways that take people out of their [racial] box. I think coming together in those ways helps us learn and grow. I also think that we can keep our grades to ourselves. That would help us to not feed stereotypes. We can also not let fear of other people’s judgment close off opportunities. If you’re really interested in taking a particular class, then you should do that and not worry about what other people are going to think or say. Just put yourself in a position where you can reach your own goals.

Nour Al Sakka

Melissa Silva

Q: What is your ethnicity?

A: I’m Arab-Canadian. Both my parents are from the Middle East, and I was born in Canada.

Q: How did your ethnicity influence your childhood?

A: My mom was really traditional, so when I was a little girl, she would tell me, ‘You should be doing this and this and other feminine activities,” and she’d get really mad and annoyed whenever my dad would take me to play soccer and do adventurous stuff.

Q: Do you find that you’ve been treated differently here in Cupertino than in Canada?

A: Yeah, I moved here last summer. I’ve lived in four places—Canada, Dubai, Syria, and America. In Canada I was part of the majority, Muslims, and everybody knew us, and in my school, I’d always sit with a group of Muslim people. So it was more inclusive. Here, it’s different. I guess it’s because I’m seen as different. I know that there are some people who wear a hijab, but I’m seen as a minority, so it’s hard to find groups of people that are like me. I mean, I want to be with other people, too, but it’s hard for me to get out of my comfort zone, especially since I’ve been used to [feeling included in Canada].

Q: Did you notice race while you were growing up?

A: Yeah. When I was growing up I was sort of isolated in all the countries I was raised in. Like in Canada, I don’t remember any differently colored people. I remember white [people], and thinking that I was white, too, and then I remember going to Syria and seeing kind of darker people, but I never really thought about it. And then I remember going to Dubai—still, no different colored people. And then when I went to second grade [in Canada], the majority of people were also white, but you did see some other races, and it was pretty cool and different for me to be exposed to different races. Eventually, when I grew up I saw racism. I heard about it. I heard about people treating others differently, I learned about slavery, and I didn’t really understand how people could be so rude to other people. So, it was different.

Q: Have you had any unique experiences because of your religion or your ethnicity?

A: I put this hijab on in eighth grade. And I remember everybody was shocked, almost. Like, what are you doing? “Did your parents force you?” was the most common question I got asked. And I didn’t really like that question, because I did this by choice. Some people were questioning me just to be rude, and I could tell. So sometimes I answered, “Because I feel like it,” and I’d be kind of sassy back.

Q: Would you say you started experiencing racism more when you started wearing a hijab?

A: Yeah. In my elementary school, it was not very diverse. But then when I went on to high school [in Canada], it was more open and it didn’t matter so much. And because I was part of the majority, it was the common thing.

Q: Do you feel more included here in Cupertino or in Canada?

A: Honestly, I felt more included in my high school in Canada. Maybe it’s because when there are more people like me, and I go and sit with them, I feel like we’re all the same, and they’ll be welcoming. Whereas here, it’s like, “What are you doing?”

Q: Why do you think you were treated differently in Canada versus here?

A: I think people just aren’t used to people like us yet.

Q: Have you noticed racism affecting others at Tino?

A: I don’t think so. It’s pretty diverse, in a way. It’s a different sort of diverse. But you see that the groups of people hanging out together are the same race. So, I think that could be changed a little.


Leo Rassieur

Amy Zeng

Leo Rassieur, Freshman

Leo Rassieur, Freshman

Q: What ethnicity are you?
A: I am half white (American) and half Chinese. My father is white, and my mother is Chinese. 

Q: How did your ethnicity influence your childhood?
A: Ultimately, I don’t really feel white nor do I feel Asian, or really anything in between. I just feel like a person. I don’t think that my race in any way impacted how I grew up. But I definitely experienced that people have perceived me differently based on my race. 

Q: Did you notice you notice race as a kid? Did it affect you in any way?
A: No, I was in a unique position because of my race. I wasn’t feeling that stereotyped as a child but later I kind of acknowledged that, especially in high school, there are a lot of stereotypes out there, and unfortunately I have had to deal with two of them. 

Q: Growing up, did you ever notice or experience racism?
A: Yeah. Especially right now, I’ve experienced a double standard in that because I’m Chinese, I’m expected to try really hard in math especially and excel in school. But because I’m white, especially at Cupertino High School, people have the perception that I have so much privilege and everything’s handed to me on a silver platter so I am expected to work hard but if I do succeed, it’s meaningless because I’m treated as if it was just handed to me. 

Q: Do you have any unique experiences being mixed race?
A: Definitely. When I visit my family in America or in China, both sides of my family treat me a bit differently than everyone else because I am biracial and I do have multiple cultures going on in my ethnicity. 

Q: Have you ever noticed racism affecting students at Tino specifically?
A: I’m aware that because a large percentage of the student populus is Asian, a lot of people experience a lot of pressure to do well and get into a top college. Personally, what I experience is that people are a bit annoyed when they perceive that because I’m white, I’ll get into the top colleges more easily than other people. And of course, with them being Asian, it’s very difficult for them to get into the top colleges. At least, that’s what the perception is. Everyone feels like they’re fighting against society and there is so much societal pressure. 

Q: How do you think we can get past this problem?
A: It’s been really unique for me in that I’ve just felt like a person and I didn’t really have to deal with being thrown in one category or another a lot of times. I think that if everyone just realized that we’re all just people, that’s it’s not sensible to be putting us in categories all the time. I don’t even fit in a category, really. So if we could just acknowledge that everyone is just essentially the same, we could move past all the pressure that we are experiencing. 


Interview conducted by Amy Zeng

Anton Samoylov

Saagar Sanghavi

Anton Samoylov, Sophomore; Member of yearbook staff, avidly participates in science fairs and STEM related activities

Anton Samoylov, Sophomore; Member of yearbook staff, avidly participates in science fairs and STEM related activities

Q: What’s your background, and what does it mean to you?
A: My parents are Russian, and I was born in Russia. We came here when I was young because my dad got a job offer, and then my parents won their green card in a lottery. When we came here, we didn’t have anything at all. We had to literally start from scratch. We’re still the only of our relatives in the United States.

Q: What effect does the community have on you from a social standpoint?
A: There’s definitely a big Asian influence here, and it’s made me fond of Asian and Indian food for one thing. But anyways, the diversity here is much more more than you’d find anywhere else. I basically get to meet everyone and find out for myself if the stereotypes are real or not. 

Q: How do you think other other people view Russian culture and society, and what is your take on that?
A: To be honest, I’ve never had too much of a problem with racial stereotypes about Russians. I don’t need to do anything really to combat stereotypes in the community. What would I do? If a stereotype is like a generalized description of one race or ethnicity and you’re just one person who’s “defying the stereotype,” it’s not going to change anything.  Of course, there’s going to be exceptions in any situation. For defying the stereotype, I just do what I do. I enjoy math, I do science and technology, but it doesn’t really change anything about me.

Q: What thoughts do you have on so the so-called idea of “white privilege” in the community?
A: That’s one thing that I dislike about how Americans view society. When I came here, and I’d chat with others on the internet, people would always say “oh, you’re white, you have white privilege”. I strongly disagree with this: what kind of privilege do I have in comparison to other people? When I came here, I didn’t get any privilege. My parents came here and they had to start from scratch. I didn’t even have a bed to sleep in until half a year after we settled, and we literally had nothing. And I don’t really see where this whole “privilege” notion is coming from. 

I don’t know what to say when people who are part of a [non-Caucasian group] act as though I owe them something.  What do I owe to people of other races? I came here as an immigrant myself without anything. We didn’t have financial support, we had nothing. Where was our privilege? I don’t see myself as any more privileged than anyone else here. 


Interview conducted by Saagar Sanghavi

Kamala Pillai

Shalmali Patil

Kamala Pillai, Senior

Kamala Pillai, Senior

Q: What ethnicity are you? 
A: I am Indian.

Q: How has your ethnicity affected the way you grew up?
A: I actually spent the my early childhood in Denver, Colorado, so there were a lot of white people there. I think I was the only Indian person in my school, and that is super different from how it is here. When I was growing up, for the most part people were very nice to me. There were a couple of kids who gave me a hard time, but when you are a kid, no one is going to be politically correct. But other than that, I felt like I fit in. My family celebrated the same holidays and ate the same food as everybody else. So when we moved here to this school district, it was a reverse culture shock for me because there are so many Asians and I was not used to that.

Q: What was it like growing up around predominantly white people versus the environment here?
A: Because Cupertino is predominantly Asian, I feel like you do not have to explain your cultural customs because people know what your family life is generally like. You do not have to explain to people “I do this differently and I do that differently,” because everyone understands you. 

Q: Of the two, which environment did you find more accepting and easier to adapt to?
A: Now, I would say Cupertino because I have lived here for a long time, and I would say that it is more accepting, because people understand how we place a lot of importance on grades. But when I first moved here, I liked Denver better. For example, I am non-vegetarian and that was not unusual in Denver, but when I moved here, I felt really guilty for being non-vegetarian because people would give me looks and I would feel bad. I guess what people accept as “normal” in Denver is different here.

Q: Did you notice any differences in the way people treated you as a child as opposed to someone else?
A: My family was altogether treated exactly in the same way in Denver as they were in Cupertino. Other people did not treat me any differently because I was Indian. I remember, though, this one girl in preschool who said, “You can’t come to my birthday party because you have a different skin color than me.” And I said, “Oh, okay, duh.” I just accepted that it was normal and I was not mad at her or anything. Other than, most people treated me normally even though I looked different.

Q: Did you develop a certain type of mindset about your race or other races based on your experiences?
A: Kind of. Here, I feel that everybody else knows more about his or her culture than I do just because when I was growing up, we never placed a lot of importance on our traditions and culture because we did not have people to celebrate them with. Here, other families that are Indian are a lot more traditional than my family, and the other families would have to explain Indian culture to me because I never grew up with that. 

Q: Has race even been an obstacle for you?
A: Not in the moment, but when I think about that one girl who said that I could not come to her birthday party, now I think, “Wow, that was messed up,” but in the moment, I saw nothing wrong with it. Other than that, it was never an obstacle for me.

Q: Do you see it as a possible obstacle in the future?
A: No, I do not. I feel like people who grow up here, who have been here their whole lives, are so used to being surrounded by people of their same race or culture, that it might be an obstacle because it may be a little bit of a culture shock when they go to college.  Most cities are usually all white and you tell yourself “Oh, that’s all right. I can deal with a different racial majority,” but when you are actually there, it’s different. That is one thing that I have experienced that other people have not: being there in both situations, and I know that it feels different and it feels like a shock but you get used to it. You are not able to talk to people the same way and ask “Do you want to get Indian food?” like you always do at home or “How are you going to celebrate this or wear this?” No one is going to understand what you are talking about. 

Q: How do you feel that CHS deals with racial discrimination?
A: I have not experienced or seen any racism in Tino but I am sure that it exists. I do know that people are pretty light-hearted here about that stuff, at least from what I have seen. You can make a joke about race and people would laugh. I honestly have not seen people dealing with racism or seen anyone be affected by racism but we do not really know. I think right now Tino’s doing a good job of dealing with it just because I have not seen anything.

Q: How has your perception about your race changed over the years?
A: I have learned more about my ethnicity over the years, and not just my ethnicity, but also everyone else’s.  I have learned to accept the unique things about myself, because I know that race is a big deal here and Cupertino is so diverse but that you cannot just associate yourself with just that race and forget who you are as a person.

Q: Are you able to incorporate your Indian culture to your American identity?
A: My family and I incorporate both. Now that I live here and there are more people who celebrate these holidays, we celebrate them too, but I feel like we are a typical American family at the same time. I kind of like having both; it is like having the best of both worlds.


Prajakta Ranade

Mark Wang

Prajakta Ranade, Sophomore

Prajakta Ranade, Sophomore

Q: What ethnicity are you?
A:  I am Indian.

Q: How did your ethnicity affect the way you grew up?
A: My dad, when he first moved here from India, went to the University of Tennessee. There were basically no Indian people there. A lot of people there called him the ‘n’ word because they thought he was African American. I guess they never thought there were Indians at school so my father had a lot of bias against him. I guess his story really hasn’t really affected me that much, but it has made me wary of other races until recently, when I started to remind myself that people of other races are no different from people like me.

Q: What is like to live in an area with such racial diversity?
A: I think it’s good to have diversity and I’m very accustomed to racial jokes. I know that a lot of people find them offensive, but because I live here, these racial jokes don’t offend me that much. I find myself poking fun at aspects of my own race sometimes but stop myself from doing that because I realize that some people can really get offended by that kind of stuff. Overall, diversity has made me accustomed to different groups of people.

Q: Has your ethnicity or race ever been an obstacle for you?
A: Not in this community. People here are so used to seeing people of other races. When I do go to the Midwest or New Jersey, those kind of places, I see a lot of racial discrimination against people. You go to a store, people will treat you differently because of race. People try to overcharge you for something because you’re Indian. Other than that, my own ethnicity has not been that much of an obstacle for me.

Q: How do you feel about the way that American shows and movies portray your race?
A: I know that it happens, but honestly, if you look at Indian movies, we do the same thing to other races. For example, it is common for Indian popular media to use the stereotypes of white people such as having very pale skin, blond hair, and a general ignorance about other cultures. It happens everywhere, and I feel like it’s inevitable. 

Q: How do you feel about stereotypes such as those that portray Indians liking STEM?
A: I understand why that happens. I understand that the media is trying to play to the crowd that does not know much about other people. If people make mild jokes like “brown people like curry” and not super serious jokes like “black people get arrested,” I got used to it because people tend to make those jokes in middle school. I understand if you make jokes like, “you’re Indian so you must be vegetarian,” when in fact a lot of Indians are.


Jeremy Whited

Jennifer Zaratan

Q: What ethnicity are you?
A: I’m half Vietnamese and half white.

Q: Did you ever notice any differences in the way people treated you because of your race?
A: Yeah, so within my family, my relatives try to treat everyone the same way, but I was treated a little differently because I’m half white and half Vietnamese. I didn't speak Vietnamese so it was hard to communicate sometimes, so that, in a way, made us closer because we had to get around that cultural gap. With other people outside of the family, I was kind of racially ambiguous. People couldn’t tell what race I was, but once they found out, they just said, “Oh okay." I wasn’t really treated too differently, in elementary school. 

Jeremy Whited Junior

Jeremy Whited


Q: Did you have any negative experiences involving racism?
A: Not really. I guess the only negative experiences I can think of are when times when I would be with my mom, and people would assume that she wasn’t my mom. They’d be confused, but I didn't find that really negative. 

Q: Did you ever pick up any sort of mindsets or beliefs about race? 
A: So when I moved to Cupertino, most people I met were Asian or Indian, so I was thought, “Oh... I’m kind of white," so then I became super proud of being mixed race. I thought, “Oh that’s pretty cool." I felt unique. 

You see that some people expect white families to be more lenient when it comes to grades, and I guess that is true for some families, and as a culture, some cultures are focused on things like that. But I saw no huge differences. 

Q: Do you have any unique experiences or perspectives on being mixed race?
A: I suppose it makes me more wary of coming from two different backgrounds.  It makes me feel that: “We’re all people, and race doesn’t really matter. The fact that I’m Vietnamese and white doesn’t make me inherently different than everyone else around me. 

Q: Do you see instances of racism here in CHS? 
A: Yeah, some people have brought this up: some people might be unknowingly offensive, especially when they say things like, “You’re white. You don’t really have to worry about grades.” I get that a few times, and it’s like "oh, haha." But eventually it gets pretty old. But at Cupertino, people are pretty open minded, so I’d say here, it doesn’t play a huge role in how people treat each other. 

Q: Has race ever been an obstacle for you?
A: No. To me, it never seemed like that big of a deal; race is race. We’re all different, and for me personally, it hasn’t been an obstacle. I know around the world it is, and that’s just, that’s really... that’s just dumb. 

Q: Do you think there’s something in particular we can work on here in Cupertino?
A: For some people, yes, but for the majority, I would say no. Just be open to any culture, I guess, but most people are already mostly that way in this area. There’s nothing too big of what we need to work on. To be honest, I see more issues about gender than about race here. 

Q: What motivated you to sign up to be interviewed and speak out about race?
A: I know race is a big issue today. I just want people to be a little bit more light-hearted about it and lessen the stigmas associated with recognizing races, I guess.

Q: Some people think we should try to ignore race, and some think we shouldn’t. What’s your philosophy when it comes to that?
A: That’s nearly impossible. I mean, I don’t consciously walk around and think, “Oh, that guy’s black,” or anything like that. Don’t make such a big deal out of it. People are different races; that’s just the way the world works, and they should recognize how different races affect different people. They should appreciate that... appreciate how culture can influence a person. 


Interview conducted by Jenn Zaratan

Ishan Sharma

Caroline Gee

Ishan Sharma Senior - Served on ASB for four years; Participated in varsity soccer and varsity football

Ishan Sharma

Senior - Served on ASB for four years; Participated in varsity soccer and varsity football

Q: What ethnicity are you?

A: I am Indian. My mom is from this bustling city called Goribor that’s in North India, and my dad is from a very poor village in India. It’s a bit below the poverty line; they live in mud huts. It’s called Kolhukhor.

Q: Did you notice racial issues as a child?

A: Yes, definitely. I actually had a very big identity crisis when I was growing up. I went to De Vargas, and then I went to Portal for a bit where there were a lot more Indians and Asians, while at De Vargas there were not as many. Then I went to Hyde Middle School and it wasn’t just Indians and Asian, but a huge mix of races. I did not want to befriend a lot of Indian friends when I went into middle school because it was my perception when I was growing up that, “Indians smell like curry and they are really nerdy and immature.” That’s the perception I was drowned out with when I was going into middle school, and so I really didn’t have a lot of Indian friends in middle school. I did a lot of non-Indian things, and I didn’t even follow my culture line. I didn’t like Bollywood movies that much, and I ate beef even though my parents didn't want me to. I wanted to be “white” and “american.” So that was middle school, and I think one of the moments that a lot of asian kids have is a “lunchbox” moment.  Like in elementary school, you bring whatever ethnic food you have, like curry for example. I remembered one of the first times I brought it to school - I would open it and then some people would say, “Ew, what is that, why is it so stinky, it smells so bad.” There’s nothing like “Hey, don’t bring your own ethnic food to school because it’s looked down upon. It’s not within the lines of the norm.” So I had a lot of those “lunchbox” moments, not just for lunch but for other things growing up in elementary and middle school.

Q: Is this why you tried to stray away from Indian stereotypes?

A: Exactly, yeah. I was trying to escape those Indian stereotypes.

Q: Has this still happened in high school?

A: Yeah, I think high school is where the tide turned and I started looking at my identity.  There was the cultural-kind of race that I was trying to avoid in middle school and elementary school, but when I came to high school, especially a high school like Cupertino High School where there’s a lot of Indians and Asians, the culture I was trying to avoid crashed on me like a tidal wave. You have people where going to Desi clubs (Indian dance clubs) or the Bollywood festival that’s a regular way to hang out. It was a really sudden shift in track with all these Lawson people and in my freshman and sophomore year, that’s when I thought, “Oh crud, is it cool to be Indian or is it cool to not be Indian? Should I be proud?” I didn’t know what to do. I think what really helped me see that my Indian race is something to be proud of is that I joined a Civic Engagement Group in my freshman year, and then I started learning more about Civics and the impact Asian-Americans have had in the American landscape and how there are a lot of Asian elected officials in the local area helping out a lot of people. Then I started finding out that being an Indian or an Asian-American is something that you should really be proud of.

For example, my junior year, I started interning for the congressman, Mike Honda. He has a very inspiring story - he grew up in a Japanese internment camp and he was a schoolteacher, and that’s why he wanted to go back to public service to make sure that stuff like that doesn’t happen again. In Congressman Honda’s office, I would help constituents in case work. It’s basically people, like my dad or mom forty years ago, trying to come to the US and having to go through these federal organizations like the National Visa service to get their green cards to come over. I would help immigrants and guide them through these federal bureaucracies. It was inspiring to see how a lot of them were coming over for education or tech, and how I was making a small difference in their journey. That was a really cool thing to see from a firsthand perspective. There’s a lot of Asian-Americans, and they’re coming here and they’re trying to help our community.

Q: So this opened up your mind to accepting that it is okay to be different?

A: Exactly. Now going into senior year, I can’t reverse whatever I had going on in elementary or middle school. I would say that people now think that I’m pretty white-washed, but I am trying to go back and touch back with my roots. I’ve started asking my parents more important questions, such as, “Hey, Mom and Dad, how did you get over here to America?” My dad grew up in poverty, so he would tell me how he only had electricity a few hours a day, and he didn’t really get shoes until high school, but he would walk to school and walk back. He came to America on an education scholarship or an education visa. That’s how they came to America, by climbing that ladder.

Q: Do you think that other students at this school are ashamed of their race?

A: I would say there are instances like those lunchbox moments, where my Indian friends or Asian friends, not necessarily Indian although I see it more with my Indian friends, where they don’t want to be classified as an Indian guy in a social setting where there are a lot of white people, or they are trying to fit in. So I think that yes, there are definitely small instances of people being ashamed of their race going on right now. But I think that it definitely has become better in the past few years. And the Bay Area is very diverse, so I think it’s less of a problem over here and in this school. But it has definitely gotten better from my time when I was growing up in elementary and middle school. 

Q: Has anyone ever come up to you and said something racially offensive?

A: Yeah, I mean I take everything that people say with a grain of salt, like if they ever say, “Hey, you smell like curry.” So yes, there are a lot of instances where people have come up to me and said something racially offensive, but I do not take much offense to it because most of my friends don’t say it with harm. But I think that some people may argue that it’s not good to say this racial stuff even as a joke because it helps to perpetuate stereotypes. For me personally, I don’t take it that hard.

Q: Do you think that this is not a big issue at our school then?

A: Well I don’t think that it’s not an issue, I definitely think that it’s something we have to work on. But I think that it is less of an extreme issue at this school. I think it’s more of less harmful stereotypes, like small jokes going around, but I haven’t seen anyone in my experience getting bullied just for being Indian at Cupertino High School.

Q: How do you think that we can get past these “less-harmful” stereotypes?

A: I think that a lot of the student activities we are doing right now are putting our school in the right direction. For example, we have Multicultural Week, and basically, it’s a week where we all celebrate diversity. You see these Indian clubs performing dances and we’re seeing Filipino students doing a stick dance where they clap sticks together and jump, and that stuff is really cool. I think that showing more of why we are prideful to be the certain ethnicity we are - instead of like in my middle school and elementary school where I shied away from it - and expose it more, I think that it will help a lot in combating these stereotypes. But I think that the students are going in the right direction and the teachers are helping them go in the right direction.

Q: Do you think that parents play a big role in it as well?

A: Yeah, I do think that parents are valuable in the sense that they can help educate their children and they can be pillars of where they came from. My parents are first generation immigrants, so they’re directly connected to India because they were born and grew up there. I think that parents can help a lot in saying, “Hey, this is where we grew up from and it’s important to recognize your roots in your ethnic country so that you can sprout up in America.”  


Solin Piearcy

Maithilee Kanthi

Solin Piearcy Senior - Four-time Wrestling CCS Champion; Wrestling State Champion

Solin Piearcy
Senior - Four-time Wrestling CCS Champion; Wrestling State Champion

Q: What ethnicity are you?

A: I’m Native American- my tribe is Chickasaw- and Cantonese, which is a branch of Chinese, and then I’m also Irish and Dutch.

Q: How did your ethnicity influence your childhood?

A: I really didn’t do much with my Irish and Dutch side growing up. My grandmother would try to teach me Irish culture, so I could connect to my Irish side, by giving me jewelry and explaining what all the pendants [meant].

In terms of being Native-American, I didn’t do much with that until high school when I got my official tribe number. Mainly, [being Native American] gives me scholarships. I get a clothing grant every year, and then in college, I might get a laptop and some books, so it’s really helpful.

Then with my Chinese side, I really did more with that than any of my other ethnicities, because [even though] we grew up kind of separated from my mom’s side of the family, we would always go to Cantonese school every Saturday, and I would try to learn the language. We would always go over to my aunt’s house and celebrate Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn festival, and try to catch on to the culture. But it would still be a mix of being American and Chinese.

Q: Did you notice racial issues as a kid? Did it affect you in any way?

A: I did notice. I knew I was a mixed race, so I’d joke and call myself Wasian. When I was younger, I went to a preschool-kindergarden school around Alum Rock, and I was the only Asian kid in the entire school. Some kids made fun of me for that because I “had no eyes when I smile.” In Chinese school, I would be the only white kid. When we moved to this area in the middle of kindergarten, I found that there were more diverse kids around so I thought, “hey, this is pretty cool!” Personally, I’ve never been against any race, I just thought it was awesome if we could all get along. 

Q: When you were growing up, did you ever notice any racism?

A: In middle school and even in high school, people would joke about race. They’d say things like, “Oh, you’re asian.  You’re automatically going to get an A,” or if you get a B then, “Oh, you’re a B-sian”.

Especially when I started driving, people would say, “Oh you drive like an asian lady” or when I go really fast on turns, then people say, “Oh you drive like a crazy redneck!”

I know that they’re jokes and they’re supposed to be funny, but it’s these sort of things that make stereotypes. Personally, I’m not offended by these things but I think that, especially now, when we’re all [high school] seniors, we have to be careful about what we say. Some people may be going to a very different environment and it might be scary because some people who may be part of the majority here will be part of the minority wherever they go.

Q: Do you have any unique experiences in being mixed race?

A: One time, after Chinese school, I was in an Asian market with my mom and brother, and this lady came up to my mom and said, in Cantonese, “I see your son, and I can tell how he’s related to you, because I know you married a white man, but where did you get your Mexican daughter?”

And my mom went, “Excuse me?”

And the woman goes on saying, “Yeah, she’s so dark and Hispanic, how do you communicate with her?” She was being really nosy and insulting at the same time, and my mom got really upset, so my mom finally said, “Okay, we’re leaving now.” And we just left.

Q: Have you ever noticed racism affecting others at Tino?

A: Very subtly, yeah. I have some white friends and they would talk about how sometimes they would be in an honors class and they would feel so inferior because they would get some condescending comments, such as “Oh you don’t understand because you’re white, and we’re Asian, so we study harder.”

I actually had a friend who dropped out of a class because she felt that way. She said she was capable of being in the honors class academically, but she didn’t really like how the environment was like a clique.

Q: How do you think we can get past this problem?

A: I feel like academics have a lot to do with it [in this area] because a lot of Asian cultures want to excel academically. That’s why I like to focus on more than just academics, like sports and everything, and I think that made it easier for me to understand other people of other races. So I would just tell people to try to understand the person themselves and let the personality, not what they look like or where they come from, speak for them. I feel like once you are away from home or in a different location, it doesn’t matter what your background is, it matters what kind of person you are at the moment. So try to communicate to the person that you are talking to, not where they are from or what they look like.