Back row (from left): Kayden Karti, Namiah Miller, Nadine Tong, Mina Mahmoodzadeh, and Aaron Hernandez. Front row (from left): Araceli Carreon, Lexie Guzik, and Varshitha Selvarajan Uma. (Grace Aitken)
Back row (from left): Kayden Karti, Namiah Miller, Nadine Tong, Mina Mahmoodzadeh, and Aaron Hernandez. Front row (from left): Araceli Carreon, Lexie Guzik, and Varshitha Selvarajan Uma.

Grace Aitken

Diversity on Campus

America was created from a mixture of different cultures. SJHHS is no exception. This special section aims to showcase minorities on campus that are often overlooked.

December 13, 2019

Several groups like DIRHA and BRIDGES promote diversity and inclusion inside and outside the classroom. DIRHA is planning an event February 10th-13th called Unity Week. The goal is to “build empathy, cultural competency, and reduce stereotypes that are based on the false hierarchy of human value.” The Express supports their mission and seeks to share the stories of eight students of diverse backgrounds on the following pages. These students speak from personal experience and do not claim to represent everyone in their community.

Araceli Carreon

Senior Araceli Carreon is a proud Filipino-American, yet feels the stereotypes that come along with being a part of one of the smallest minorities on campus. 

While the Philippines is in Asia, Carreon struggles to call herself Asian because of the differences in culture and the stereotypes she experiences. Many Americans’ idea of Asian people and culture is East Asian, countries like China, Japan, and Korea, all of which have distinct cultures that are very different than the Philippines. 

Yet, despite the differences, Carreon identifies as Asian and wishes the Asian American students at SJHHS had a stronger and more unified community. 

“In general, comparing the Asian communities to other minorities, we’re not as unified. I feel like people have an idea that it’s like one big monolith. The stereotypes for Asians are very rigid. You have slanted eyes, usually associated with a pale face, and I think that mindset makes Asian Americans see our differences more. We don’t see the similarities we have,” Carreon said. 

Carreon struggles with the “model minority” stereotype that Asian Americans have. While many feel that the stereotype of Asians being “smart” is harmless, or even positive, it puts an entire race of people in a box that’s hard to escape. 

“At school, once people realize that I am Asian, they’ll attribute my grades to me being the Asian stereotype.  But once I’m outside, people will mistake my race for something else, and they’ll associate me with stereotypes associated with darker-skinned people.  When I volunteer at food drives, other volunteers often mistake me for one of the low-income people who they help out,” said Carreon. 

Due to The Philippines’ complicated history, it has many different influences that inspire Carreon. While the evils of colonialism from Spain and Japan, along with American imperialism, still cause issues such as poverty, racist beauty standards, subjugation of Fillipino workers, and other problems that plague the country, the Asian, native, and Spanish influence create a blend of cultures unique to the Philippines. 

The Filipino experience is that you’re not 100% this, or 100% that…and I guess that’s the comfort I find in it, as a Filipino-American”

— Araceli Carreon

“To be honest, I feel like Fillipino culture is more of a melting pot than you could argue America is. Because even though there are a lot of people from different demographics in America, when it comes to the culture itself, I would say that different cultures are integrated more in the Philippines,” said Carreon. 

Carreon’s parents are immigrants, and she has family in the Philippines that she sometimes feels disconnected from due to her American upbringing. 

“My cousins are nice to me of course, but there’s definitely some kind of difference in how they treat me. They think I’m too soft because I didn’t grow up in the hardships of the Philippines, and it kind of hurts. I know I’m very lucky to have grown up here, but at the same time there are individual struggles that come with being a minority…and then you come back to the people who should be the place where you find solace, then you get that sense where they don’t completely accept you either,” said Carreon.  

While representation in media for Asians is increasing, Carreon feels that the representation for Filipinos is slower coming. 

“I want to say it’s getting better. But people have this idea that I’ll immediately feel represented by Japanese, Chinese, or Korean characters. Yes, I’m happy for my fellow Asians, but it’s not the same as getting real Fillipino characters,” Carreon said. 

Carreon finds comfort in the fact that while she is from two cultures, the culture of the Philippines itself was born out of many cultures. 

“I guess that is the Fillipino experience. The Filipino experience is that you’re not 100% this, or 100% that…and I guess that’s the comfort I find in it, as a Filipino-American. Even though I feel different from America and the Philippines, the idea that inherently the Philippines is something that isn’t one thing on it’s own, that it’s a party of different cultures, that also gives me something I can connect to,” Carreon said.  

Lexie Guzik

Lexie Guzik, though strong and proud in her identity, faces adversity every day after she was the victim of an intemperate hate crime.

Guzik’s “Love Wins” sticker was ripped off her bumper and shoved onto her front window twice, sending a message that they are not accepting of the LGBTQ+ community.

“The first time, I was devastated and it made me feel unsafe to come to school, but the second time I was just mad. Now, whenever I leave school I have to check my sticker, and it makes me anxious to come to school sometimes,” said Guzik.

However, Guzik does not believe members of her community should stand down or feel ashamed because of people who are hateful towards them, they should use that hate as fuel to fight for their equality and raise awareness for people who are not accepted into society. 

Being the president of Queer Alliance gives Guzik an opportunity to use her experiences with hate and homophobia to help other students. 

“Being able to connect with everyone in Queer Alliance and helping them with their own issues that I may have gone through myself,” said Guzik. “My heart bursts with joy for them to see them learning and being vocal about who they are in a place where they’re safe from having anyone demean them.” 

Guzik has not always been as open and proud of her sexuality as she is today. She, much like many other people coming to terms with their sexuality, was once closeted and afraid to express who she was. 

“Someone who’s ashamed of who they are is someone who doesn’t have the support they need, which is how I was freshman year. I was alone, I didn’t really have anyone I wanted to talk to or anyone in my corner, but the more people support you, you get that sense of pride and know who you are,” said Guzik.

To feel more accepted by SJHHS, Guzik wishes they would treat members of her community the same way they would anyone else. 

“Whether someone is straight or someone is gay, love is love, it’s all the same,” said Guzik.

 

Mina Mahmoodzadeh

“I’m my own type of breed” said Mina Mahmoodzadeh. Being a first generation, biracial follower of Zoroastrianism has always been a big part of Mahmoodzadeh’s life and the religion has become an integral part of her character development. 

Zoroastrianism is one of the first religions of Persia and has one prophet named Zoroaster. Mahmoodzadeh believes her religion focuses more on the future than the present. They ideally want to focus on how to change the world with the three principles of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. 

“It is mostly about choices, and that there is a righteous path and wrong path, but you get to choose what that is” said Mahmoodzadeh. “[These principles] definitely go through my mind when I am thinking if I should say a certain thing or not, or little things like holding the door open for someone.” 

Mahmoodzadeh feels that her religion doesn’t set her apart from others at first glance, because the difference in religion is not physically apparent when compared to her peers. “Nowadays in our school, I am not the only person who practices a different religion than everyone else in the room. There could be Muslims in the room, or people who are Sikkh.”

“I’ve never had a big realization about me being so different from everyone else,” said Mahmoodzadeh in the context of her religion, however, she has faced adversity in regards to her ethnicity as she is of both Persian and Puerto Rican descent.

 “Since I’m Persian, when all the stuff with ISIS was a popular topic, people would always ask ‘are you descendants from them?’’, said Mahmoodzadeh

Despite the occasional offensive comments, Mahmoodzadeh has found comfort in a Zoroatrian community in Irvine, and goes there often to further her understanding of her religion.

 “Closer to Irvine there a lot of Persians who practice Zoroastrianism, but, even there, I do feel like an outsider sometimes. A lot of the people there are full Persian, and it’s a little different from me because people say that I am whitewashed or because I am half Latina,”  said Mahmoodzadeh.

“There is a language barrier that I cannot break through because I speak neither Farsi nor Spanish,” said Mahmoodzadeh. She feels like this often makes her feel different within both of her communities. Having dual cultures often feels like she can never really fully relate to one specific culture. 

Lately, she has become more aware of the two races she has identified with throughout her life, and has grown to embrace herself as a unique blend of culture.

“When I was little I would wonder why we don’t celebrate Easter or something like that. I was never ashamed of my culture but I would always ask why am I different,” said Mahmoodzadeh. 

“It’s a lot better being different now because people are more accepting of it,” said Mahmoodzadeh.

Kayden Kadri

As a Muslim and a Catholic, junior Kayden Kadri is searching for balance between the two religions of his family. 

With a father raised of the Islamic faith and a mother brought up a Catholic, Kadri has practiced both faiths his entire life.

Originating in Mecca, Islam is centered around the belief in a God, named Allah, who’s will is known in the scriptures of the Qur’an. “Followers typically go to the mosque once a week or more, but I personally go on Friday’s for Jumu’ah, our Friday prayer. We are also expected to pray five times a day,” said Kadri.

“I am a Sunni Muslim, there are two different sects– Sunni and Shia,” said Kadri. Sunni Muslims rely on the teachings of the prophet Muhammad to guide their actions recorded in the Sunnah, when the Shiites rely on signs of God found on Earth.

In a community where Muslims are of a very limited population, Kadri understands the importance of learning more about his religion and continuing to practice Islam. “I feel like it’s super important because it separates me from everyone else. I grew up with it and I practice all of the rules and intricacies of Islam,” said Kadri. 

While Kadri remains faithful to his father’s side of the family, he also participates in Catholicism– a completely separate religion from Islam. Being raised in a Catholic church, Kadri does not feel as isolated in the community because there is a large population of Catholics compared to Muslims. 

Kadri feels like he is a part of two completely opposite lives. “One is full of mostly white people, the other is full of mostly brown people… you see two different colors. Also the language– Islam is practiced in Arabic, and Catholicism is practiced in English (for the most part, as it can be practiced in many languages with English being the main one),” said Kadri. 

I used to never tell anyone that I was Muslim, but all of my friends know now, and I’m open about talking about it. It’s a part of me and now I’ve learned to recognize it.

— Kayden Kadri

Because Kadri is apart of two vastly different religions, it is hard to find a solid connection to one over the other. He feels like an outsider when attending both services because there is either a language barrier (Islam is taught in Arabic, which Kadri can not understand), or a cultural barrier (Catholic church is prodominantly white). 

Being an outsider in his community, Kadri has been treated differently because of his faith. “Mostly in middle school, where people weren’t as accepting, I lost friends over it. I got called ‘Terrorist’.” Kadri has forgiven certain peers for treating him a certain way due to an ignorance that Kadri believed influenced their behavior towards him.

Even though there has been a growing awareness about Muslims, there is still a stigma around the Islam faith. Especially because of terrorist attacks and ISIS, Kadri remains to feel pinned down by the fear and hate towards his religion. “I’ve definetly felt ashamed to be a Muslim– especially after terrorist attacks. I’ve been treated differently,” said Kadri.

With a very small community of Muslims around him, Kadri has adapted to being an outsider and has established separate bonds with his friends at school or the Catholic community.

“I used to never tell anyone that I was Muslim, but all of my friends know now, and I’m open about talking about it,” said Kadri. “It’s a part of me and now I’ve learned to recognize it.” There is always going to be a stigma around Islam, but Kadri has looked past that and has accepted his faith and works to make his religion more accepted in his community.

Namiah Miller

Namiah Miller is one of 21 African American students out of 2,556 enrolled at San Juan Hills. Though he feels connected with the other African American kids, he does not feel as though he has a community at school.

“I don’t feel like there’s really a big community at San Juan. There are clubs like Queer Alliance that are a set things, a community for people to be a part of, and I don’t think that’s a thing that this school,” said Miller. “Maybe there’s just not enough black people, but I don’t think there’s a community.”

Although Miller feels a lack of community in his race at school, he does not feel like an outsider at school when he sees the few African-American kids that are at SJHHS. He notices the lack of diversity, but he has not been made feel maliciously excluded. “I’m aware of the difference, but I don’t walk into school thinking ‘Oh my gosh, they’re gonna treat me horribly different than anyone else here’ because of it,” said Miller. 

Miller believes African-American people are not celebrated often enough in their achievements. “Whenever I’m hearing big, important achievements about people making medical advancements or new research, I don’t hear a lot about black people being celebrated for doing those things,” said Miller. “I don’t hear about them in politics, or hear about when they set world records either, and I just don’t see a lot of representation of black people in those areas.”

In the media, specifically movies and TV shows, Miller sees improvement in black representation recently. Movies such as “Black Panther” and shows like “Blackish” represent black people in America, fading away from whitewashing in media. 

At school, Miller wants to see SJHHS have a day or week celebrating African-American culture, to make himself and other black students feel more accepted.

Nadine Tong

Half Cuban and half Chinese but equally proud of both, junior Nadine Tong, struggles with others often ignoring her Hispanic heritage while believing stereotypes about her Asian heritage. 

Her physical appearance may lead people to think she is only Asian, but her mom is from Cuba while her dad is from China. 

As Tong appears more Chinese than Cuban, various assumptions about who she is, such as attributing her intelligence to the fact that she is Asian. “When people assume I have to be smart because I’m Asian, I feel an extra weight on me that I have to live up to that,” said Tong.  Although she is smart, her ethnicity does not control whether she is intelligent or not.

It is also often assumed that her Hispanic side of the family is Mexican rather than Cuban. “Nobody ever considers the other Latin American countries. They always think that if you’re Hispanic, then you’re Mexican,” said Tong. 

Although Tong has grown up embracing two different cultures, she feels as if she has found an accepting community within her school. 

She has not met another Cuban student at SJHHS, but her classes on campus are diverse which makes her feel like she belongs. “We all have our own culture and all have something different to contribute to our classes,” said Tong. 

High school has different cliques and groups, however, Tong has also found a group of friends that is diverse. “I feel like I am part of a community because my friend group is very accepting and doesn’t take race into account,” said Tong. 

She wishes more people would disregard race when it comes to making friends or who you surround yourself with. 

Many struggles come with having a bicultural background but it is important to acknowledge that no one has one single identity. If people have two cultures to identify with its hard to tell what culture they are…  I am Hispanic but I identify with both- I’m proud to be both,” said Tong. 

Varshitha Selvarajan Uma

Born in India and raised in America, Varshitha Selvarajan Uma has never been ashamed of her culture, but also has always struggled to fit in. 

“In the group of being not white, girls are primarily affected by standards of beauty,” said Selvarajan Uma. “In America, the beauty standard is blue or green eyes, light colored skin and super bleached blonde hair,” said Selvarajan Uma. She feels that when Indians try to fit into this standard of beauty it’s different. It’s discouraging and she often wonders why she doesn’t look like people in advertisements or supermodels. 

Selvarajan Uma has learned to coexist with this standard of beauty by being a part of a community both in person and on social media. “I feel different, but it is not in a bad way,” said Selvarajan Uma. “When I was little, I used to live in Wisconsin, which is all white people, so in all of our class pictures everyone was white except for me and my best friend. Before it used to be kind of weird to me, but now it is normal.”

Selvarajan Uma believes there is nothing wrong with embracing her culture which is not heavily showcased in mainstream media. She stays true to her roots by learning Bharathanatyam dance, a traditional South Indian Classical art form. This year, she completed her Arangetram, a solo dance debut which lasts around two hours. 

When I invited my white and other non-Indian friends to my arangetram, they told me how amazing my performance was and that made me feel proud of my culture and myself. I felt so happy that I could introduce them to another culture,” said Selvarajan Uma.  

If people put looks aside and communicated with others, it would be a lot safer for most people”

— Varshitha Selvarajan Uma

Although Selvarajan Uma surrounds herself with positive influences and is not afraid of flaunting her culture, she has also faced occasional negative comments. 

“People that go to this school have cyber bullied me about my friend and I about our race. They make jokes about me smelling like curry and things like that. No one is going to fix it, that is just the type of thing that happens to colored people, so I’ve gotten used to it,” said Selvarajan Uma.

While she knows that she cannot fix people’s ignorance towards her and her culture, she is happy to have people she can relate too about the cultural differences she shares with her peers. 

“We don’t have to go far to find our people. Irvine is more diverse in that there are a lot more minorities, and I feel more comfortable there because I do not feel judged there,” said Selvarajan Uma. 

The adversity Selvarajan Uma has faced has helped her develop into the proud Indian Immigrant she is today, and she believes that this pride can be shared with others if they were to have an open mind. 

She feels that in general, minorities would feel included more if others were more welcoming of people with different backgrounds.

“If people put looks aside and communicated with others, it would be a lot safer for most people” said Selvarajan Uma. 

Aaron Hernandez

People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States. There is a wide range of what a disability can look like, and for senior Aaron Hernandez, it comes in the form of a speech impediment. 

Hernandez was born with a stutter and he received speech therapy starting in kindergarten. His stutter can hinder his communication skills, but he doesn’t see it as a disability. 

“Prior to the school year, each teacher I am going to have is notified of my speech impairment. Overall, they tend to keep it cool with rare exceptions of extra treatment, and honestly, I prefer it that way. I prefer to be treated normally,” said Hernandez. 

There are some other students on campus with similar speech impediments but Hernandez is not significantly close with any of them. “I am personally close with people who have other disabilities so we can connect, but not when it comes to speech impairment,” said Hernandez. 

Classes with an emphasis on participation can create anxiety for Hernandez and possibly lead to insensitive reactions from peers. “Occasionally I will hear murmurs when I’m talking but I just tell myself to get it over with. To me it’s no big deal, I know inside that what they are doing is immoral, so I’ve learned to not really care,” said Hernandez.

In middle school, Hernandez struggled with social interactions and was a little self-conscious but throughout high school, his confidence has been able to grow. “It’s something I know won’t change anytime soon so I might as well embrace it,” said Hernandez. 

Hernandez also feels as if the majority of people at school embrace him as he is. “Although there are a select few who will obviously remind me of my impairment, there is a whole sea of people on campus who look past it,” said Hernandez. 

“You are the one who decides if it’s a weight on you or if that weight is going to provide you momentum forwards,” said Hernandez. He believes disabilities are not an inability.

“Those with impairments simply have them, they’re not any less of a human,” said Hernandez.

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