Sierra Fang-Horvath

Youth Radio’s Sierra Fang-Horvath is facing a classic first generation problem; wishing her mom could be a little more woke.

My mom came to the U.S. from Taiwan when she was seven. As an immigrant in the 70s, she faced racism, daily. I cringe when I hear her stories about kids on the playground calling her “chink,” squinting their eyes, and mocking her accent.

So, it’s puzzling to me, now when she makes highly questionable statements about other groups.

We were talking about an ISIS terrorist attack. My mom shook her head and said, “Islam is a violent religion.” I confronted her, “It’s not okay to generalize an entire group based off of an extremist minority.”

We also fight over gender pronouns. I have a non-binary friend whose pronouns are “they/them,” but my mom keeps saying “she/her.” Whenever I ask her to try to use the correct pronouns, she complains that “they/them” is confusing.

We go back and forth. “So you think clarity is more important than respect?”

To her, I’m too politically correct. To me, she’s disrespectful. Sometimes I walk away with tears of frustration running down my face. How can someone I love so much think like that?

The problem with my mom isn’t hate — it’s lack of awareness. She was raised in a different generation and with a different culture. Her very traditional Chinese household didn’t exactly support different points of view.

But for me? I’ve grown up in a woke world. And some things that feel natural to me, will take her longer to catch on to.

Sometimes in public I still hiss at her, “Mom. You can’t say that. Not here, not ever.” But in the end, I need to be patient while she grows. And I know it’s not easy to let go of outdated beliefs that were ingrained in her as a child. But I see her trying. And to me, that makes a world of difference.

With a Perspective, I’m Sierra Fang-Horvath.

Sierra Fang-Horvath is 17 and lives in Oakland. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

Last summer, my family spent practically all of our time together. This summer, we had a lot of fun too, but something was missing — my brother Cole.

He was busy taking summer college courses–though that’s not the only thing that kept him from us. He also has what he calls a second family.

When my brother returned home from his first weeks at college last September, I was excited to hear all about how it was going. Dorm life, cafeteria food, and frat parties. Instead, when my family sat down at the table to eat, Cole closed his eyes, clasped his hands, and silently mouthed grace.

My jaw dropped in shock.

Atheism is all we’d ever known. But the first friends Cole made on campus belonged to a Southern Baptist church group. Not long after, he converted.

My parents are trying to understand. They read those books about spirituality and even went to Easter church services. It’s been harder for me to accept.

Early on, I asked Cole, “Do you think that when I die, I’ll go to Hell?” I expected him to say, “Of course not! You’re a good person.” But without pausing, he told me that if I didn’t repent for my sins, then yeah, I would. I wanted to scream that I’m his sister. Regardless of the Bible’s rules, he knows I’m a good person. I guess he has more faith in God than he has in me.

I also have to own that I’ve made some very mortal mistakes on the road to acceptance. I fought with my brother a lot about his beliefs. I even laughed at him when he tried to explain them. Would a good person laugh at their own brother for something he cares about?

I want to hold onto the Cole of my childhood, the one who climbed trees and loved making stupid puns with me. In some ways, we’re not those people anymore. We’re both changing so much.

The thing I’ve learned through this, is that I can’t choose to focus on our differences.

He’s not Cole the Southern Baptist, he’s just Cole — my funny, smart best friend.

With a Perspective, I’m Sierra Fang-Horvath.

Sierra Fang-Horvath is 17 and lives in Oakland. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

My mom is Chinese, with black hair and tan skin. My dad is white, with light eyes and skin the color of office paper. I, on the other hand, am an awkward midway point: dark skin, but not super dark; black hair, but not super black.

It used to be that I never thought about my mixed race. But as I’ve gotten older, and now that I attend a predominantly white suburban school, race is constantly on my mind.

Recently, my classmates and I participated in a survey calculating our privilege,

One question, asked whether band aids match my skin color. Are band aids supposed to, I wondered?

Another question, asked whether I can surround myself with people of my same race whenever I choose. I looked around my English class and saw blond hair and pale skin.

At the end of the quiz, my white classmates had racked up scores suggesting they have three times as much privilege as I do.

Now, I no longer think of myself as Sierra. I’m brown Sierra.

I went to my dad in hopes that he could set things back the way they were, back to when I didn’t have to think about this.

I asked him whether people would make assumptions about me based on my skin color. His furrowed brow confirmed it: probably.

I asked whether boys wouldn’t find me pretty because I was dark, and his eyes filled with tears. He told me good dad things. That I’m beautiful and smart and capable. But the more he talked, the less I believed him.

I enjoy a lot of privileges. I’m middle class and I go to a good school. On top of that Asian Americans just seem to fare better in terms of bias and racism — at least these days.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that privilege exists. We don’t have to become defensive, and we don’t have to feel guilty for it, but we do have to know when it’s there.

I’m not white. I’m also not not-white. So it’s fuzzy figuring out exactly what privileges I benefit from.

With a Perspective, I’m Sierra Fang-Horvath.

Sierra Fang-Horvath lives in Oakland and is a junior in high school. Her commentary was produced by Youth Radio.