Category Archives: Asian American

The Talk: Bridging the Gap Between Parents and Teens

By Jacky Chen, h.s. senior, New York

On a hot, cloudless July afternoon in 2017, a 13-year-old Chinese American boy ran away from home and jumped in front of an oncoming subway train at the East Broadway station in New York City. He was pronounced dead at the scene, leaving his elder brother and mother devastated.

To many, this is just another suicide incident on the news, but not for me because he and I were close friends in elementary school. I later learned that tense familial relationships and unbearable expectations were the underlying reasons behind his decision to cut his life short. Even after more than four years, I often find myself coming back to this incident, wondering if there was anything that could’ve been done to prevent it.

Despite a growing number of mental health awareness organizations, poor mental health rates are rising. According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, in 2019, over 36% of high school students in America experienced feelings of depression and hopelessness. More alarmingly, the attempted suicide rate increased by 41% compared to a decade prior, reaching 8.9%. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this rate has only continued to climb in the past few months. A CDC report shows that, in 2020, there was a 24% increase in mental health ER visits for children ages 5 through 11, and more than a 30% increase for those between 12 and 17 years old.

Poor mental health plagues today’s youth, and one of the biggest barriers to improving it is teenagers’ reluctance to admit their struggles to family members, friends, and teachers out of embarrassment. While nonprofit organizations and schools must continue to provide their services and resources, parents must take on a more active role in their child’s mental wellness to address this pressing issue and the social stigma that surrounds it.

With significant worsening in mental health rates in the past decade, we need to address an important question. What might be some of the underlying causes? Firstly, in an increasingly digital world, teenagers are exposed to technology and social media more frequently and at a younger age. According to a report from Common Sense Media, kids between 8-12 years old average nearly six hours of screen time a day and up to well over nine hours for teens. This constant exposure establishes a social norm that adolescents are constantly trying to meet, a stressor that induces low self-esteem and feelings of depression and loneliness. The topic of pop culture also has social implications. A study conducted at the Pew Research Center states that around three-in-ten teens feel pressured to look good (29%) and to fit in socially (28%). Twenty-one percent of teens list extracurricular activities and being good at sports as stressors.

Perhaps more significant is academic stress. Sixty-one percent of teens cite obtaining good grades as their top stressor, and those who attend high-achieving, competitive high schools are the most susceptible. As a student at a high-achieving high school, I can attest to this. The competitive peer culture at school takes a toll on not just my mental well-being, but on that of my peers, too.

Being aware of a child’s mental well-being is a parent’s responsibility. There are many ways parents can get involved. It’s important to first establish a respectful and trusting line of communication where teenagers can receive the support they need. Multiple individuals need to be identified as a source of support in case one overlooks signs of depression.

There are also numerous online resources available at any moment like Find Your Words, which both parents and adolescents can use. From de-stressing activities to coping advice, these resources provide great guidance. Parents should educate their children about the suicide prevention hotline (800-273-8255) and encourage them to frequently take mental health self-evaluations. From local school councils to nonprofit organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, fighting mental health is a collective effort. It’s through collaboration and confrontation that we can change the stigma surrounding adolescent mental health, and it’s time for parents to take the lead.

By Jacky Chen, h.s. senior, New York.

Preparing for Your Life as a Minority

By Skipping Stones Staff

Students of color often face many difficult and discriminatory situations throughout their lives. Whether it’s at school or in social situations, when applying to jobs, or in their careers, it is an unfortunate truth that people still display biases about skin color, race, national origins, looks, etc. This affects how they treat others. Although it might seem scary or daunting as a minority to face unfair treatments based on prejudice, bias, and ignorance, knowing how to deal with these situations can help you deftly navigate out of them in effective ways.

In order to prepare for the real life issues that you may face as a minority, it is important to think about the kinds of situations where your ethnicity may play a role. Social situations are a common place where this can occur. Say you are an Indian-American and with a group of people where someone asks if you are a doctor or computer engineer. You would likely be fed up with having to deal with such stereotypes, and you might be tempted to react with anger. However, this will likely not help you. Confrontation might even serve to reinforce stereotypes people have about different ethnic groups, as unfair as that is.

When navigating these kinds of conversations, it is important to differentiate between people who are simply ignorant about racial issues but don’t harbor ill-intentions, and people who purposefully act and say discriminatory things. Telling the difference between these two types can go a long way into protecting yourself and ensuring you effectively navigate racial conversations. If someone says something out of ignorance rather than ill-intention, you can help educate them. With the example of career stereotypes, you could explain to them that while doctors and computer engineers are common jobs among Indian-Americans in the United States, that ethnic group doesn’t always act as a single unit. It is made up of so many different people, just like Caucasians, Chinese-Americans, and other ethnic groups. Each person is different, and can have different career goals. However, if someone intentionally tries to discriminate against you, the sad reality is that trying to engage with them directly will generally not help the situation. That is why it is so important for others, perhaps bystanders or people of different ethnic backgrounds than yours, to step in and stand up against such stereotypes and discrimination.

When dealing with those without racist intentions, having patience is key, as is an awareness of why people think the way they do. Some people who make ignorant racial comments do so because they didn’t have exposure to people of different backgrounds. Perhaps they lived in rural areas and didn’t get to interact with many Asians, Hispanics, or African Americans, for example. It is easy to have twisted notions about other ethnicities when you never interact with them yourself. Of course, this is no excuse for racist words or actions, but understanding why some people might be prejudiced can help effectively navigate difficult situations.

Social situations are not the only place this prejudice can manifest though. If you are a minority, you may sometimes find bias or a lack of respect from people in the workplace. One issue in workplaces is something called affinity bias, where people prefer to connect with others who share similar interests, experiences and backgrounds. Therefore, if you work for an organization where most people are of a different racial background than you, you may feel excluded (because others may tend to socialize together). To help reduce this you can show when you do have similar experiences or interests as them. If you share common hobbies, or play similar games in your free time, these can be points of common ground to build upon.

This kind of bias can also manifest in the hiring process itself, and is incredibly unfair to minority candidates. A recruiter or hiring team may subconsciously connect with applicants who are similar to them or had similar upbringings. On the surface, a white recruiter may not think they have much in common with a minority candidate, due to different upbringings, cultural values, etc. To overcome this, you again must put in extra work to show how you do connect with the recruiter or manager, in addition to showing your skillset. Many U.S. businesses and organizations are run by older, white employees who may not have received a ton of cultural exposure, or may not have taken cultural competency training, and therefore they may show a lack of respect for minority candidates. They may repeatedly display stereotypes or lack of cultural understanding, or mispronounce non-American names, for example. This is a well-documented phenomenon but many times this is unintentional, so it is a good opportunity to (politely) correct them, if they mispronounce your name.

However, both bias and a general lack of respect towards minorities can take a toll on you mentally if you constantly have to deal with these types of racial issues. To cope with this kind of stress it can be useful to talk to other people in similar situations and see if they have similar experiences. It can also be helpful to have a support group of friends and family who will listen and empathize with what you are going through.

As an Asian American, my experiences with bias and prejudice will likely be different than those who have different backgrounds, including those who are African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, or from other ethnic groups. Skipping Stones is interested in hearing your perspectives, to the extent you feel comfortable. Do you have experience dealing with bigotry or discrimination? How do you deal with those kinds of situations? We invite you to share your experiences as other readers may find your stories useful and helpful in dealing with such issues in their lives. It could show us all that we are not alone in feeling discriminated against or stereotyped.

It was Good to be Back

By Benjamin Kwack, age 9, Illinois.

Hi. My name is Billy and my family was visiting Seoul which is in Korea and I loved everything about it. As soon as I heard that we were staying here for the entire summer vacation plus three months into the school year, I was so excited. Partially because I was going to not have three months of school. But anyway. I was going to be in Seoul because ever since the Korean war started and the fighting began, America had sided with South Korea. My father, who actually had joined the army 15 years ago, had to stay in South Korea to help, just in case the Northern part of Korea attacked again. I hoped I would enjoy my time, especially on the holidays. In America, holidays were still fun but this was a whole new country with different traditions so I couldn’t wait to be in Seoul.

The first holiday I witnessed was the New Year. Everyone stayed up really late until after midnight and in the wee hours of the morning. I was sleepy but tried to stay awake just to see what happens. I saw a big bell that was right next to a street and people had gathered around, cheering as they jumped out of their houses running to it. The only light was the light from thousands of cellphones, and they glowed brightly in the dark. The night was silent until somebody started talking into the mic. I felt a little nervous. The person with the mic stopped talking as someone rang the gigantic bell with a mallet that was hooked onto a chain. The big shouts of celebration filled the air, and children ran around with big smiles on their faces. I heard noises like, “It’s the New Year already!” and “See you next year!” The bell rang 33 times before it stopped. The sound of the heavy gong filled my head even after it ended but I was too excited, so it actually didn’t really matter.

Finally, everyone went back into their houses and went to sleep. When we woke up in the morning, my mom realized something. She said that we should have gotten a traditional food, called Tteokguk (It is a soup with sliced rice cakes inside it). I walked up to my mom and said that we had to try some of the soup because if this was a tradition, then I wanted to try it. She said, “Of course Billy. Why not?” So that was the reason why we rode to the supermarket in a taxi. The supermarket wasn’t crowded because everyone already had Tteokguk prepared a few days before. Luckily for us, one container of Tteokguk was still there sitting on the shelves. We quickly bought it. The cashier said, “Annyeong.” We said that we didn’t speak Korean so it was kind of difficult talking to the cashier but we finally managed to understand each other.

After we were done, I skipped out of the supermarket, and we rode another taxi home. It was a while for us to get back there but we unloaded the food and started cooking. I drooled. We waited and it was finally cooked thoroughly. The soup had a natural taste that felt rich as I rolled the pieces of sliced rice cakes around in my mouth. The soup warmed me inside and made me feel calm after all the excitement. I was thinking about the New Year. I tried some more, and it felt plain but at the same time, strong. I saved some for later; I didn’t want to eat all the Tteokguk in one meal.

Then, I watched as people came back out onto the streets again. But this time, a lot of older people also walked onto the streets. I followed them with my mom and my dad. The children bowed to their elders saying, “Saehae Bok mani badeuseyo!” and the elders smiled back, and they gave the children a little money. This went on for a while and when the last coins rattled, I held my breath with a little disappointment because I thought everything was done.

It wasn’t. There was one other thing. It must have been really meaningful because everyone went to visit their grandfathers and grandmothers or their ancestors who had passed away by going to their ancestor’s graveyards. Their family members who had lived in other cities also came and joined them. They laid food by the graveside and prayed for them. The family members chatted for a while and ate some of the food together and waved to each other for a long time before finally leaving. I was struck with a little confusion because this was a new thing for me, and I only knew a little of what was happening. That’s why everything made me feel awestruck and amazed. I actually liked the Korean way of celebrating the New Year. It soon became dark, and I went to bed and gazed up at the ceiling smiling waiting for the next holiday.

“What?!!!!!” I yelled waking up the next morning. My dad had announced that he had received an early retirement. It was such an honor to turn it down. Plus, my dad had been wanting to go back to America as soon as possible. I just sat there on my bed and scowled, but there was nothing I could do.

I gloomily walked to the airport with the family, boarded the plane and looked out the window. I had actually begun to like Korea and didn’t want to leave. Helplessly, I just flew back to America and cried to myself.

20 years later…

Billy had been in the army for four years. He had been sent to Korea to serve there. The happy smiles and laughs struck him and he smiled. It was good to be back!

“My name is Benjamin Kwack. I am 9 years old and I really like to draw, to do math and most of all, I like to write. I like to write fantasy, fiction and I really enjoyed reading informational books in class this school year.

In my story, ‘It was Good to be Back ,’ the main character, Billy, is a boy from America and his dad was in the army for 15 years. His dad was sent to South Korea to serve the army. Billy enjoyed the Korean New Year celebration because this was a new country with a new culture and traditions for him.

I wrote most of the story from Billy’s point of view except for the last two lines. I thought that way, it would seem special and more like a real story.”

In the Forest within the City Park

there is a beauty that can not be muffled

by the city’s lights and sounds

it flies free with the clouds

and pushes the leaves in the air

onto the ground

to flutter like butterflies  

it holds the reins of the seasons

it dresses the earth in wailing white and grassy green

it gives us life  

but we take away from its own

the sky is filled with fire

the ground bathed in garbage

after all that it has done to us

we must save it from ourselves  

we must protect our world, our home

our beginning

nature

By Jaslene Kwack, age 11, Illinois.

Jaslene writes: “I like writing, art and music. I play the piano, clarinet and I started bassoon a while ago. In my free time, I like to write stories and poems. I try to be creative using metaphors and verbs that aren’t cliche. I enjoy drawing realistic and abstract pieces of art. When I grow up, I want to be a person who combines art and writing in a creative way to entertain or help people.

     “I wrote [this] poem about nature and how we are polluting and killing our environment. I want to recognize the beauty of nature and how it formed us in the first place. Sometimes, people don’t give nature as much credit as it should deserve. Without it, our world would be empty and barren. In my poem, I also talk about parts of nature all around us everyday. The wind blowing, the leaves falling from trees. Technology which is represented in my poem as “the city’s lights and sounds” is taking over our world slowly by every hour. I think because of all these new inventions and ways of life we are making for ourselves, a lot of us forget about how important nature is and how it is humanity’s origin. We should recognize nature and be grateful for this world around us. I think we should all strive to be better and protect the earth so that we can keep our world clean and healthy.”

Festival of Mid-Autumn Moon

 By Chiu-yi Rachel Ngai, 16, Arkansas.
 Lanterns bloom like flowers, the light and colour of crowded city streets. 
 Folded paper, a slinky of patterns,
 Dancing as the candle flame flickers a pattern silhouette. 
 There are plastic lanterns these days, thick and rubbery with a strange smell,
 Lit up with a mini LED bulb. 
 They come in all shapes and sizes, pop culture and cartoon designs.
 Mickey Mouse, Power Rangers, Doraemon. 
 I remember my cousin had an Elsa once, a matching pair with her Anna-toting sister. 
 We met with mooncakes under a full moon,
 Lotus paste sticky sweet, salted egg yolk seawater respite. 
 Our ancestors looked up at the same moon, and now we stand in their light— 
 A product of their mistakes and triumphs.  
 We stand tall, a proud new generation, 
 Eager to take on the world outside our Hong Kong,
 Not knowing how much our bubble would change in the years that watched us grow. 
  
 I was fourteen when I left on a fifteen hour flight to the United States, 
 Creating a half-globe’s distance within my heart. 
 I write this at sixteen, a full lifetime for so many before me, a full lifetime for still too many. 
 Arkansas is American Southern, dry and green and different and not a bad place to be— 
 And yet I remain a daughter of the Asian East— 
 My bones do not feel like they belong. 
  
 I sat under the ever-present moon last Mid-Autumn, my second in the States,
 Eating mooncakes gifted by my art teacher, the only other Chinese person I know in the area. 
 I look up to the sky, to the stars my cousins do not see, the stars drowned by neon light—
 I look up to the sky, to the moon my family looked at thirteen hours ago, the moon my ancestors saw a woman’s story in.
 The moon keeps me close to home.  

By Chiu-yi Rachel Ngai, 16, Arkansas. She adds: "I grew up in the bustling streets of Hong Kong. I moved to the U.S.
when I was fourteen in order to get a better education. I am fluent in English and Cantonese. I can understand Mandarin/ 
Putonghua better than I can speak it. I am working on overcoming my internalized racism towards myself for being Chinese, 
and I decided to submit to Skipping Stones as part of my journey towards accepting myself and finding pride and 
joy in my cultural identity."

Overlooked Oppression

Minding my own business, I looked for the exit sign in the store since COVID-19 precautions had limited the number of usable doors at Target. As I made my way to the familiar red exit, a middle-aged white man approached me.

“Because of you, I have to wear this mask. Your kind started this whole pandemic.”

As an Asian American, I have always experienced racism, but I’ve never spoken up about it because not many people like me have. Oftentimes, I find that the Asian community keeps quiet and internalizes the racism we endure. However, after my trip to Target, a message shouts clearer to me than ever: The unrecognized racism that Asian Americans face has been shut down for far too long, and it is time to bring awareness to this prejudice. 

Asian Americans have actually faced racism for over a century. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. “For the first time, Federal law proscribed entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that it endangered the good order of certain localities.” In other words, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law to ban immigration based on race, demonstrating how Asian Americans have long been subject to racial discrimination.                

But more urgent are the recent violent attacks that thousands of Asian Americans have suffered. As the number of COVID-19 cases have increased, so have the number of hate crimes towards Asian Americans. NBC News reported at least 3,800 hate crimes against Asian Americans in the past year, mainly against Asian women. From random strangers shouting, “go back to China,” “Chinese virus,” and “Kung flu” to mass shootings such as the one in Atlanta, countless Asians have recently experienced these horrifying acts of racism.

But why aren’t more people talking about all the lives lost due to this prejudice? The answer is simple. Asians are seen as the “model minority,” so we – apparently – don’t experience racism since all of us are so opulent. However, the model minority myth is very problematic. This myth originated in the 1960s when the 1965 Immigration Act reversed the previous restrictions on Asian immigration. But this act still limited which Asians could enter the U.S. because only highly educated professionals were allowed in. Because of the background of these skilled workers, they were able to pursue specific careers with higher income, resulting in the development of the model minority myth. However, this overgeneralization of Asian Americans masks the struggles of those who aren’t as fortunate. In 2018, the Pew Research Center found that Asian Americans have the largest wealth gap in the U.S., proving the inaccuracy of this harmful stereotype. Additionally, this myth places a racial wedge between Asian Americans and other people of color. Rather than uniting to fight the issue of white supremacy together, racial minorities are divided against each other because of the model minority myth, which hinders progress towards racial equality. Even though our society has made several steps in the right direction in terms of anti-racism, there is still a long way to go. We must continue to fight for racial justice so that all people of color can finally have an equal playing field.

By Lily Fu, 17, Asian American, Texas.

Please visit Lily’s website: https://asianamericanawareness.blogspot.com/ She created it for her youth advocacy organization that focuses on Asian American Awareness.

Taiwanese Food

By Camille Chen, age 10, Asian American, California.

I eat, sleep, and speak Taiwanese culture every day. Not a day goes by without my speaking Taiwanese or eating Asian food. My parents moved from Taiwan to America before they had me. Their childhoods were very different though, because my dad had to travel with his family because of his dad’s job. My mom experienced the art of Asian foods, and learned how to cook Asian food from her mom, her grandma, and other elder family members. 

I think that to be in an Asian family, it is a necessity to be able to at least cook some egg-fried rice. There are so many people out there that make such simple things the wrong way. You wouldn’t know how many videos are on YouTube with Asians looking at other people cooking Asian food and correcting them. Also, I think that Asian food allows you to really freestyle/improvise. For example, one of the dishes that my mom makes is Udon. Even though Udon is a Japanese type of noodle dish, you can cook it on the pan and mix it with pork and vegetables, and it is so enjoyable! 

Taiwanese food is very unique compared toEuropean food. You need a lot of effort to make it,  and learn about it. For instance, egg-fried rice can be extremely easy to make, but if you want someone to taste it and immediately love it, you need wok hay to make the flavor scrumptious when you are chewing the rice. The wok hay gives the rice a special flavor as if it’s cooked right under charcoal with a big fire underneath it. I consider the Wok as one of the wonders of Asian culture! It is so special and when you use it to cook anything, you can sense the heat and unique smells. The garnish adds even more flavors and makes it even better. But, you also need the correct garnishing. Egg-fried rice garnished with green onions is a classic, and adding cabbage with it is nice, but you don’t want a salad-like vegetable to go with your rice! The tiny details make Taiwanese food extremely difficult, but if you trust the process, it is all worth it in the end. However, egg-fried rice is just square one. Taiwanese food also includes soups with strong flavors or soups that can actually help your health! 

One soup that’s healthy and delicious is ginger soup. Usually, my mother adds cooked chicken to make the soup less boring. My mother also adds rice to make it more child-friendly. The real stuff about it is the special cooking wine. And a pinch of garlic. That makes the whole house smell like heaven. When I taste the soup, first I detect the rice. The rice has no flavor on it’s own, but since it’s been in the soup for some time, it tastes like the soup. Its texture is sort of al dente and the chicken is no different. When I eat the chicken, it has the flavor of the soup and tastes wonderful. The garlic is so soft that you can eat it without thinking it tastes weird. You won’t even notice you’ve eaten garlic. Underneath the base of the soup, I taste the ginger combined with the cooking wine, but it isn’t overpowering. Soy sauce is added as well. The rice, chicken, and the stock together make a wonderful homey ginger soup. The best thing is that each quantity is about equal, so you won’t have to waste anything. Once it’s on the table, we finish it all and stay full for a long time. 

Taiwanese food is important to me because I feel it brings culture and tradition. For example, dumplings, a very common and well-liked dish, are shaped so that they look like bars of gold; so when Chinese New Year comes along, people make or buy dumplings to eat in hopes of getting more money in the new year! The dumplings are a symbol of wealth. 

Zong Zhe, another very popular Asian food, also has a long history behind it. Once, a man named Chu Yuan was hired as an advisor of the King. After a long time, he became an extremely wise advisor and everyone saw him as a good person. But then, one day when Chu Yuan was giving the king advice, the King disagreed with him. This made Chu Yuan so sad that he thought he was unfit to serve. So, he drowned himself in a lake. Everyone felt sad that such a good person would die, so they wrapped up the rice in leaves to prevent all the fish and shrimp from eating up Chu Yuan’s body. This rice wrapped in leaves soon became known as Zong Zhe. Nowadays, people eat Zong Zhe at the Dragon Festival. I feel like this is an important and somewhat heartwarming story. It’s pretty entertaining to see others’ reactions to the story of Zong Zhe. 

When my grandpa was young, his family didn’t have much money. He didn’t have shoes to wear, no toys to play with, and they rarely had meat on the table. But when Chinese New Year came along, his family mixed flour and water together to make a certain type of dough and pinched it into shapes of butterflies and flowers. The point is, just because my grandpa’s family was poor, his mom still did her best to keep the tradition going on, and also wanted the kids to have =>p.17 Taiwanese Food continued from p. 16

fun moments in their childhood. So when he was in the hospital, he remembered all of these fun moments and savored them. 

Taiwanese culture and food are very important to me. I know many of these stories by heart; they were told to me by my family. I hope that one day I will be able to cook our traditional food and share our culture and history with the next generation. My family keeps the Taiwanese traditions going.

By Camille Chen, age 10, Asian American, California. This was selected as a Noteworthy Entry in our 2021 Youth Honor Awards program.

Intoxicated: My Life with Social Media

By Isaac Choi, 16, Oregon.

As one critic of social media observed, “There are only two industries that call their customersusers‘: illegal drugs and software,” said Edward Tufte, a computer scientist in The Social Dilemma. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey of 750 teens, 97 percent used social media and 45 percent were addicted to it. I was one of those teens. I first tasted the social media world on my 12th birthday. I had nagged my mother for months, and now it was in my grasp. I quickly became absorbed by the features and abilities that social media possessed. In my first few days, social media consumed my mind. I thought about it during school, at dinner, and even in my sleep. Its presence stalked me like a tiger in a forest and lingered like a ghost at night. I fell into an abyss of likes, followers, and posts. From the moment my eyes landed on the scrolling screen, a habit instantly formed, beginning the intoxication of my mind.

About a year after developing my profile, I developed a daily routine. After school, I would seize my phone to browse social media apps. It was supposed to be a positive way to connect to the outside world and join the online community. But that was not the case. Instead, I became obsessed with how many followers and likes I had. It separated me from reality and presented me with a false identity. I had become a salesman and an addict; I thought of ways to appeal to people to follow me, just as a CEO would handle marketing. For example, if I took photos from my chin up, my insights showed deflation in followers, whereas if I took pictures from a head to heel angle, I would experience inflation. I would try to recreate the bios and profile pictures they had. It made me feel invincible, numbing my mind with ecstasy. This kid who never touched social media before was now living the high life.

By the end of next year, I was a living disaster. I was consumed by social media. Instead of spending time with family on holidays, I sneaked into my account, and I scrolled through posts, instead of completing schoolwork. Consequently, my life was full of procrastination and constant fights with my family. I was stressed by the pressure of trying to support my “perfect” reality online. But thankfully, this cycle came to a sudden halt. 

 It was around seven or eight p.m. on a Saturday when my mother called me to the living room. She wanted to show me a documentary on Netflix. My mother is not a lukewarm parent; instead, she is the total opposite- a “tiger” mom. With that being said, my mother watched my social media addiction with an eagle eye. She saw that I was not able to live with both social media and school, and realized that I needed change; not by a minor fix through small talk but by a dramatic metamorphosis. At first, I had no idea what it was about, but I just stayed until I saw the title. 

As soon as I saw the words, The Social Dilemma, sweat droplets rose from my palms and my back. I had heard from a blog that the documentary could turn the lives of addicts completely around. It motivated people to delete their social media apps and renew their lives. But I did not want to be a part of that. I detested the thought of quitting social media and giving up my “perfect” reality. But, my mother insisted that I just watch and listen. So to avoid any conflict, I stayed, but the sweat slowly rolling down my back added to my uneasiness.

The Social Dilemma resurrected me from the gorges of temptation and deceit. As I watched former employees of tech companies like Facebook and Google give their testimonies on how the industry managed social media, everything they said was an explanation for my addiction. One employee said that the companies looked at people’s views on posts and recommended similar content. This led to addiction. Another employee said that companies would send notifications to attract users. This led to distraction. From that point on, I told myself that I would not be brainwashed by money-loving trolls who took advantage of the vulnerable, which led me to believe that social media was not an app, but a drug.

After the documentary ended, my mother asked me how I felt about it. I hid my true feelings and said that it was boring because I still had the desire for social media within me. But suddenly, my mother wanted me to make a decision: either choose social media or my life. I did not want to do this, so conflict was the only alternative. While I was resting my hoarse voice, a calm rushed over me. Instead of resuming the conflict, I suddenly wished for a newer life, full of meaning and purpose. That was when I made the choice that changed my life, one that would influence my future. With that, I quit and deleted all my social media apps and accounts.

The aftermath of this decision led to so many great results. I started a successful club at my school, became number one in my class, and started a new sport. What began as a tumultuous odyssey to becoming an addict eventually evolved into a tour of reflection. I had no sense of reality and most importantly, I was intoxicated by false illusions of perfectness. But I found a light that shines my true self, revealing my potential and purpose.

The first step to any recovery is seeking help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline combats addictions from drugs to social media. For more information, visit: samhsa.gov. Thus, will you linger intoxicated or refresh into a successful life? Your choice will direct your path in life. Social media may get dopamine rushing all over the body, but there are many other highs in life which we can all embrace.

By Isaac Choi, age 16, Oregon. This was selected as one of the Noteworthy Entries in our 2021 Youth Honor Awards program.

Sit by Me

By Sonia Mehta, age 17, Russian-Indian heritage, Ohio.

“Excuse me. Is this seat taken?”

Anika glances up to see pleading eyes.

“Sorry,” Anika says, looking past the girl. “Our friend asked us to save the seat.” She resumes her lunch.

The newcomer leaves. From the corner of her eye, Anika watches the new girl navigate through the crowded cafeteria. Two noisy upper classmates jostle her to the side. Anika clenches her fork. They keep walking as though the girl is invisible. The newcomer chooses an unoccupied table in the corner and sits. Anika’s chest tightens. She takes a deep breath. No relief.

“Anika, you’re mean,” Cynthia says.

“Her name’s Darsha,” Meghan adds from across the table.

“Who?” Anika feigns.

“The new student,” Cynthia replies.

“Oh, I don’t know her.”

Meghan pushes her thick glasses to the top of her broad freckled nose. “Is she from the same part of India as you?” She tugs at her thin red hair.

“No. Different region.”

“She looks a little like you, Anika. But darker.” Cynthia twists her wavy chestnut hair around her plump index finger.

Anika feels a guilty pleasure hearing these words. The desire for lighter complexions in parts of India is a poorly kept secret. The classified section of the India Today newspaper is filled with matrimonial ads. Prospective brides are described as having ‘wheatish’ or ‘cream’ complexions. The defining characteristic of men is ‘successful.’

“I feel bad for her,” Meghan says.

“Someone should talk to her,” Cynthia adds.

Anika knows this means someone else. The friends look at Darsha. She is short and thin. Her long black hair glistens with coconut oil. It is pulled back into a messy ponytail, exaggerating the roundness of her face. She wears denim pants that are a size too large and a dull green t-shirt. Darsha stares at her plate, playing with uneaten food.

Anika rakes her fingers through her freshly straightened caramel-tinted hair. It accentuates her heart-shaped face. She tugs on the collar of her cropped Brandy Melville shirt.

“We can’t associate,” Meghan says, “or we’ll be losers too.”

Anika considers protesting but does not. She has ascended the school hierarchy to the level of blending in. She can live with that.

Three years ago a girl from India entered a classroom. She prepared for life in the States by watching every movie available to her in Surat, India. She expected to be introduced to the class by her new teacher. Such was the custom in her country. Instead, she was directed to an empty seat.

Within minutes, an American girl raised her nose and sniffed loudly. Other students mimicked the action: a pack of hyenas catching the scent of a prey. They soon triangulated the smell to the backpack under the newcomer’s desk. Disapproving looks followed. Her mother’s khichdi sat in the plastic container. It was the least spicy and malodorous dish she knew to pack for lunch.

After class, she rushed to the restroom and dumped the lentil dish. Next period she made the mistake of answering a question about Alexander Hamilton. She did not know that her thick accent sounded like marbles had been placed on her tongue, “Hamilton was a veddy (very) important patriot. He reeelly (really) cared about a strong federal government.”

A boy jeered, ”Did he reeelly?”

Snickers followed. She never volunteered another answer.

The worst introduction happened in the cafeteria. The room, the size of a football field, buzzed with a slow-moving current of American teens. Each table pre-filled with students laughing and gossiping. Their backs turned to her–a phalanx of shields. She found a corner table and sat alone. She stared relentlessly at her watch, willing the minute hand to move faster.

From her left, sunlight came through a window and separated into a rainbow on the wall. She pretended the colors were a palette of paint. She imagined dipping her brush in the red and produced her grandmother’s beet pickle. The cinnamon-anise smell touched her nostrils. A smear of green brought her Auntie’s fried elephant leaf paatra. Was that the scent of coriander? With a dash of orange, her mouth watered with the sweet cardamom-flavored jalebi.

She felt better looking at the rainbow. It was her color palette . Colors were a part of her life. She used to toss the powdered dyes at her cousins during the Holi Festival every year. The colors transformed them into living canvases.

“Earth to Anika,” Meghan says.

“What?” she mumbles, coming back to the present.

“I said, time for fifth period.”

Anika glances at Darsha’s now vacant seat. She tries imagining the new girl leaving alone. Instead. Anika sees a girl from Surat who once filled the emptiness in her heart with colors dancing on a wall. Anika has recognized the aching loneliness in another but has chosen silence. She leaves with her friends.

The next day, Anika joins her two friends at their usual table.

“Did you hear about Darsha?” Cynthia asks.

Anika looks up from her phone.

“She dropped out,” Cynthia continues.

“So soon?” Meghan says.

Anika’s stomach knots. She stares at the seat Darsha was in yesterday. Empty. That deserted table used to be hers. Her eyes drift to the window. It’s sunny outside, and a rainbow flickers through. My color palette , Anika remembers.

“Does anyone know why she quit?” she asks.

“Probably hated being a loser,” Cynthia answers.

“Where did she go?”

“I guess where she came from. Where was that again?”

“Somewhere else,” Anika whispers.

I wish you had stayed, Darsha. I should have shared my color palette. I could have. She looks again at the rainbow. It flickers merrily, unmoved by her thoughts.

A single cloud rolls in. Its shadow obscures the colors.

—Sonia Mehta, age 17, Russian Indian heritage, Ohio. The story is being published as one of the Noteworthy Entries of our 2021 Youth Honor Awards program. The story was also published by Telling Room earlier this summer.