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The Feeling is Mutual: A Love Letter to the Multicultural Identities of WPHS Students 

By Emma Dognin 

As a French American citizen, I’ve always found it hard to fall into a specific ethnic identity. Though I speak a fair amount of French, I feel like I am a tourist when I go to France, but in America I never feel fully American, which makes me feel stuck in between two identities. Growing up in America but coming from immigrant parents can make it hard to forge an identity for yourself. Fortunately, WPHS has a very diverse community of people from all backgrounds. I was able to interview some students on their multicultural identities as people who have grown up in America but have parents from other countries. I asked about various key components of cultural identity. Here is what I found. 

WPHS students speak a variety of languages (Spanish, Polish, German, Japanese, Marathi, and Urdu to name a few). Those who speak the language of their ethnic backgrounds often speak to their families in said language, making them feel closer to their cultures and like a native when they go to their families' countries. However, this is not the case for all students. 

Senior Saumya Sawant, an Indian American student, discussed how despite her fluency in Marathi, she feels like a tourist in India. “I don’t look Indian…when I speak my native language, I have an accent now. I speak very fast, and I don’t pronounce some of the words correctly, so people can tell I’m not a native speaker,” she said. 

Another student, junior Elika Trueblood, is Japanese American. She has been going to Japanese school for twelve years and is fluent, yet she described that due to her biracial identity she was not accepted in Japan. “Japanese people tend to...unintentionally discriminate between people who are fully Japanese and people who are mixed race. They usually label you when you come to Japan, based off of what your other half is, or if you’re fully Japanese or look fully Japanese,” she explained. 

Most of the students interviewed from Spanish speaking backgrounds felt that their culture is well-represented in White Plains. Junior Jocelyn Lopez, who is Mexican American, discussed her culture in White Plains: “There’s a lot of things, like Mexican Restaurants, activities and in school there’s the Mariachi Band,” she said. She was also able to take part dancing—Baile folklórico—in the Mexican parade in New York City. Dana Condori, a Peruvian American senior, also takes part in cultural dancing. “My whole family dances for la Virgen del Carmen [which is] a Saint’s birthday on July 16th, the same day as mine, and I participated to dance in one of their groups…every family member is part of the dance,” she said. Junior Genesis Oquendo is Peruvian and Puerto Rican American, and she took part in Marinera dancing for an international parade.  

However, I interviewed a few students whose culture is far less prominent at the high school. Sophomore Olivia Tuzel hails from Poland. She identifies herself as American, but her parents immigrated to the states from Poland. She feels that there are not a lot of Polish people in White Plains. “I feel like I don’t know anyone that’s Polish…I wish I had a Polish friend,” she said.  

Senior Lucas Rhode feels similarly. He identifies himself as Wasian, (he is German and Taiwanese) and explained that he does not know many people of a similar background. “It’s definitely made me fit in less…if you’re not connected to the community of people who are from where you’re from or your parents are from [you can feel disconnected],” he said. “I’d say my parents also feel very disconnected...they don’t have many friends who are German and Taiwanese… it’s hard to devote yourself entirely to a culture when you are a part of two.” 

Olivia Tuzel described the merging of her Polish and American identities growing up in the U.S.. “It’s one thing that you live in the U.S., but so much of your life has revolved around the culture that your parents brought in…it’s hard to feel the difference between the two sometimes… I think in school… when I was younger it could feel hard being a child of immigrant parents, because you feel like you can’t do all the things other people do that don’t have immigrant parents… your parents have their own values. Once you get to high school and meet other people with the same backgrounds, it feels like home,” she said. 

 Aayan Karigar, an Indian American junior, described that his identity is mostly forged by his Muslim identity as opposed to his Indian one. “Within my own family our culture is a little bit void…most of the things that happen in our house are related to Islam rather than culture…I think my cultural upbringing doesn’t have as much to do as my religious upbringing which heavily influences my morals and how I see the world,” he explained. 

Each student I interviewed has a unique perspective and his or her own way of connecting to culture. Lucas Rhode said he celebrates Chinese New Year and celebrates a “more German kind of Christmas.” Jocelyn listens to Spanish music and watches telenovelas. Genesis goes to Peruvian culture shops. Aayan speaks to his family in Urdu and conducts tasks in a traditional way. Saumya is part of an Indian Organization which takes part in gatherings and goes to temple. Dana is well acquainted with the history of Incan holidays and traditional dances.  

All students shared that they feel like a person of multiple worlds—most feeling like they belong to neither and both. Even those with families from the same countries have had completely contrasting and unique experiences. Many feel as though they do not belong, so hopefully reading these perspectives can help them realize that they are not alone, and though not from the same exact background, others can relate.  


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