Anabel Howery, age 16
This personal story details my thoughts and experiences when I moved to Irvine during sixth grade.
The Young Japanese Girls
“Hey ladies, this is Anabel. She just moved here, and this is her first day! Could you guys include her in your group?”
A group of young Japanese girls huddled together at a table in the cafeteria looked at me pensively before nodding with grim smiles.
“Awesome! Thanks so much,” my sixth-grade teacher said as she beamed and walked away, undoubtedly believing that she had done her job, that I would find solidarity among these girls who looked just like me, and that I would fit in like a missing puzzle piece, interlocking with these “familiar” strangers as if it were where I naturally belonged.
A girl I recognized from my class smiled shyly and greeted me with a simple, “Hi.” Then she turned back to her friends, continuing the conversation they had in a language I failed to understand.
I sat beside them throughout the thirty minutes of lunch, glancing at them every few minutes, searching for an opening to be a part of the group I was supposed to fit into. But that opportunity never came, and so I stood up and left. None of the girls bothered to look back.
That was my first day at school in Irvine, California, the infamous bubble city known for its low crime rates, safely gated neighborhoods, highly praised education and, of course, its immense lack of diversity. With almost 50% of the population consisting of Asian Americans, my parents believed that I would have no difficulty fitting in and feeling a sense of belonging.
But I didn’t. I missed the comfort of my friends from Los Angeles, the friendly faces that I grew up with, like Malik, a tall African American friend who was one of the funniest and kindest people I ever knew, or like Karen, a Mexican classmate whom I always looked forward to talking to whenever I helped her with math after school. I missed playing tennis with my Indian hitting mates Oceana and Raajaa. I missed the old homeless man who would never pass up an opportunity to rally with my brother and me. And I missed my Korean childhood friends whose single mother struggled to provide for her children. I missed everything about the community of Los Angeles, and I became grateful for the experiences there that shaped me into the unique person I am today.
I never felt more at home than when I was with the people who taught me open-mindedness, who taught me not to hold prejudice against those with different skin, and who taught me the strength of willpower and resolve during difficult times.
On the second day of school, I made my own friends. And to my teacher’s surprise, they weren’t young Japanese girls.