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Looking Back: Growing Up In Carson City As An Asian American

Tammy Soong is standing dressed in a high school graduation gown and smiling at the camera.
Avery Thunder
Tammy Soong before her high school graduation from Carson High School in 1987 in Carson City, Nev.

Avery Thunder is a member of KUNR’s Youth Media program. In this interview, Avery talks to her mom, Tamara Soong, and asks her what it was like being raised in Carson City as a biracial child coming of age in a small town.

Avery Thunder: You were one of the few Asian people in the entire town. But not only were you Asian, you were also half white, half Asian. What were some of your experiences in Carson City that proved to you that you were different in a way that you had no control over?

Tammy Soong: I don't even know if it was so much that things were difficult, but we definitely just stood out. We were one of probably three Asian families. We were definitely recognized wherever we went. Probably the first memory I can think of, being a kid where somebody mentioned something to me about it, was when I was in kindergarten. These little boys were taunting me about being Chinese, and they'd call me “Chinese eyes” and run away. I had a friend who was super cool, and she decided that we would be the “Chinese eyes gang,” which was really adorable.

I think I always felt like maybe I was bridging two worlds, but then at the same time, I think I was just so surrounded by white people that I just felt like I was sort of a white person. I mean, my dad grew up in Hawaii, and so we went there at least once a year and saw all of our relatives from there. So I kind of got that cultural part.

Thunder: Did you ever get stereotyped to the degree of being called the Asian girl” at Carson High or something like that?

Soong: Well, I think that kind of helped drive the smart girl thing. I mean, I was smart quote unquote, but I think it also kind of pushed that narrative forward. Because, of course, you're like the “smart Asian,“ or at the time it was “Oriental.” It was Oriental at the time. We were not Asian American at the time.

Then I went to college and that was the first time that I was actually surrounded by a lot of Asian people. I went to UC Davis and they actually had these Asian American student unions and stuff like that. That was frankly more shocking than anything because there were all these groups of kids that actually hung out together. I was like, “Why would you do that? That is so odd to me.”

Thunder: Did that help you feel more included in the college, or did it just feel weird?

Soong: It just felt weird, you know? They were really nice. They kind of tried to reach out to me and be like, “Hey, you want to come to our meetings and stuff?” But again, it was almost like, I've got one foot here and one foot there.

Thunder: How do you feel about Carson City now after living there for your entire childhood?

Soong: It's actually really strange to go back there because it's changed so much. It's kind of like going back to somebody else's life, where I remember these things that are sort of familiar and they look the same, but they're really not because so much growth has happened and everything. Carson City, there will always be happy memories for me. That's where I met your dad, and if I didn't have dad, I wouldn't have you. So of course it's a great place.

Thunder: So, looking back on it, are you happy that you grew up in Carson City?

Soong: Yeah, I'm happy that I grew up in a small town because I think there were a lot of really good things about it. There's a closeness that you get with your classmates that you grew up [with]. You started kindergarten and graduated with them, and you don't ever have that in a big place. So I don't think I would change it.

Avery Thunder is a junior at the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology in Reno. KUNR’s Youth Media program is a special partnership with the Washoe County School District to train the next generation of journalists.

KUNR's Jayden Perez adapted this story for web.

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