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Audio Diary: Washoe County High School Student Speaks About Asian Discrimination

A teenage girl with her parents in their backyard on the Fourth of July. They are dressed in patriotic colors and holding American flags.
Courtesy of Janelle Olisea
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Janelle Olisea (middle) with her parents in their backyard on July 4, 2020.

Washoe County high school senior Janelle Olisea is graduating next month and will be heading off to her dream college; however, she’s feeling a bit less exuberant and more worried these days. As a Filipino immigrant, the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans nationwide has her concerned for her family’s safety. She shares her thoughts in this audio diary.

My name is Janelle Olisea. I’m a senior at the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology High School. I just turned 18 years old. I am also attending Stanford University next fall, and I like to think I’m a pretty typical teenage girl. I mean, I love hanging out with my friends on the weekends. I love singing at the top of my lungs in my car while I drive. I love pretty normal things. Except, these days, I haven’t felt normal.

I feel like I have a target on my back because I’m Asian. I’m an immigrant from the Philippines. I came here when I was a year old with my mother. I speak fluent Tagalog, which is a Filipino dialect, and I will jam out to the Filipino songs that my parents show me. I sing at all our karaoke parties. I eat all our Filipino food. I’m just proud of my roots, and I’m proud of where my family’s from, but it’s just a scary time right now; seeing these people who could have easily been me, who look exactly like me, getting discriminated against, assaulted and even killed makes me terrified.

I’m scared for my family. I’m scared for my mom, who worked so hard to come to America and has just provided me with such an amazing life because of how hard she’s worked. I’m scared for my dad, who came here when I was eight years old, and he’s worked tirelessly during this entire pandemic to support us. I’m scared for my grandma, who is the most vulnerable [target] in our household, both to COVID-19 and now to anti-Asian hate crimes. My grandma is a tiny Asian woman, and she could not even hurt a fly. And now, to think that she has a target on her back because she’s Asian?

[Excerpt from an interview between Janelle and her grandmother.]

Janelle: Mamu, how has it made you feel to see all these hate crimes against Asians happening? Janelle’s grandmother: I am scared. And I don’t know why this is happening.

After the shooting that happened in Atlanta, my cousin reached out to me and told me he wanted to take my grandma out for lunch for the first time in over a year. My grandma has not left the house basically this entire pandemic. We’ve really, really been careful about her safety. My cousin was really excited because they would both be fully vaccinated, and he was just excited to finally take her out. But now, my cousin said he isn’t even sure it’s safe to take her out at all because she’s an Asian elder. Who would have thought that the reason we couldn’t take my grandma out wouldn’t be because she was the most vulnerable to a deadly pandemic disease, but it was because of her vulnerability of getting hate crimed.

Everything I am today is because of my Filipino roots, and I’m proud of my upbringing. I’m proud to be Asian American. It’s never something I’ve ever felt like I needed to hide. But now, I’m scared to even speak Tagalog in public with my family. I’m scared someone’s just going to be like, “Speak English,” or “Take the virus back to your country,” or some absurd hate comment about my race. Hate crimes against Asians [aren’t] even something that’s new, which makes it even more terrifying. Like, why have we let this go on for so long?

I just think it’s really disheartening that I could possibly be seen as less American than my peers because I’m an immigrant. I wasn’t born here. I clearly don’t look like a stereotypical American. And to think that someone could look at me and just think, “Oh, you’re not, you’re not American, no way.” It’s like, “I am.” This has been my home since I was a year old. I grew up in America, and it’s just heartbreaking to know that some people don’t think I belong here.

Janelle Olisea is an alum of KUNR Youth MediaThis audio diary was produced by KUNR’s Anh Gray.

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