The twins are identical, but their fashion styles beg otherwise. At school, they look different, unique: Lhamo has long hair and wears bright cardigans, proud of a chic, international look; Kunsang has mid-length hair and wears large sweaters, easily rocking a tomboy look. It is easy to figure out who is who with one glance. But they have one thing in common: they never wear dresses.
For seven years, they were never seen in dresses at school. It seemed as though their wardrobes only consisted of t-shirts, converse, and skinny jeans. However, as February drew near, I was proven wrong. They took a picture of themselves wearing bright green and yellow gowns, smiling—but the gowns were neither strapless nor backless, barely resembling a cocktail. Instead, the dresses reminded me of Japanese kimonos, the sleeves not as long but the fabric silky with intricate, delicate patterns that hugged them. It was so foreign yet mystical.
My curiosity told me to ask them about the outfits the following day. “They’re called chupas,” they responded. “They’re traditional Tibetan dresses. We’ve started wearing them weekly because we are teaching kids about Tibet on Sundays.”
Intrigued, I continued to inquire about their teachings and Tibetan celebrations until class began, and soon, this became a daily routine. As I listened to them explain Losar, their frequent celebrations, and Tibet’s struggle for independence, it dawned on me: they were clinging on to whatever remained of their culture in this American society. They were embracing their mother tongue, they were embracing the stories of their homeland, and they were embracing their identities. And I was not.
Unlike them, I am an immigrant who left Asia in the early 2000s. Unlike them, I am always surrounded by fellow Filipinos.
Unlike them, I learned about my home country’s history during freshman year because it was part of the Humanities curriculum. Yet they were the ones actively contributing and connecting to their ethnic community, attempting to become fluent in Tibetan to do so, whereas I, on the other hand, could barely speak in Tagalog because I feared criticism from proficient speakers. Ignorant, so ignorant, I allowed myself to be.
These twins refuse to let Tibet be forgotten, exemplifying their dignity. They will not let a crucial component of their identities fade. That is why they must be honored. Their dedication and mindsets inspire me to cling onto my heritage and to thoroughly embrace my background and community; self-identifying as Asian is not enough.
Being honored with gold is generally a rewarding challenge to continue to keep moving forward and to never stop despite obstacles. For Lhamo and Kunsang, it is the promise to continue to influence this generation and the generations that will follow, and to never let their culture die when other people have done otherwise. This is a responsibility I—we—will help them accomplish.for the happiness of the other.
Growing Up Asian in America provides a unique platform for young people to creatively explore and celebrate being both Asian or Pacific Islander and American.
Every year, almost one thousand Bay Area students in grades kindergarten through 12 submit artwork, essays, poems and videos on a single theme, competing for over $20,000 in cash and prizes. It encourages young Asian Americans to take pride in their identities, and helps others understand the varied experiences of our youth growing up in the Bay Area’s diverse communities.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the program, the Asian Pacific Fund asked youth to reflect on their roots. A variety of themes came up in the students’ works including personal stories of sacrifices made by immigrant grandparents and parents, the struggle to maintain one’s cultural identity, and the lessons learned from each family’s journey. Many students expressed deep appreciation for the courage of elders and ancestors.
This essay was a winner in the 9th to 12 grade category. Christine Joy Abella is in the 12th grade