LONG BEACH, Calif. — At the height of anti-Asian violence last year, Arabella Varieur wanted to take a stand.
The 17-year-old from Fullerton was looking for ways to tell her story, her experience with discrimination and racism growing up as a biracial Asian and French American.
When she heard from a high school counselor in December about a writing contest on a student’s experience with race, she jumped at the chance.
“It was important for me to tell my story,” said Varieur, who recently graduated from Fullerton Union High School. “I know it’s 2022. No one has told a story about someone mixed and upset with [the anti-Asian hate and discrimination] happening. And not being able to see a story like my own made me realize, if no one is going to tell it, then I should.”
Varieur’s story, “Other,” is among ten winning student submissions displayed at the Billie Jean King Library in Long Beach as part of Long Beach-based creative agency Intertrend’s Make Noise Today Initiative, designed to empower youth to champion racial equality by amplifying their narratives. She is among three students from Orange County and Los Angeles chosen to have their work displayed.
The exhibit, which will run until the end of August, showcases 60 students’ stories out of more than 900 entrants nationwide. Intertrend and their business partners awarded ten students a cash prize totaling $10,000. In total, there are 60 exhibits and a dozen pieces of artwork.
Julia Huang, president at Intertrend, a multicultural advertising agency, said they launched the initiative at the height of anti-Asian American hate and violence.
“We didn’t want to focus on the hate or violence,” Huang said. “Rather, we wanted to use the concept of narrative to have Asian American [and other diverse] students tell their stories. We want to champion the youth and amplify their voices.”
The inaugural writing contest began in December and asked high school students, “What would you say to others about your experience about race?”
Judges chose winners based on essay creativity, voice and conventions.
Some students wrote about how they deal with self-image, insecurity about being Asian, the generational divide between their immigrant parents and growing up American, living with curly black hair, and anti-Asian hate and discrimination.
“Because I started to spend more time with school than with you, and my faith in your promises stretched into skepticism of contradictions,” wrote Aida, a Chinese American from North Carolina, in a letter about her mother. “The problem was I began to confuse whiteness with charisma. I mistook the fluency of English for warmth, and I cringed at your accent. Like when my white counselor would smile and ask me about myself, I would feel accepted... Or when the ‘nice’ popular girl told me my food smelled weird, I would hide the smell of my lunch on the yellow bus to school. I would get mad at you for embarrassing me even without being there.”
Natasha Quinn, a 17-year-old from Lake Forest, wrote “Your Hair, Your Crown,” a letter to her younger self on how to deal with the insecurities of being biracial and having curly black hair.
“Do not be ashamed of your hair,” she wrote. “I know you can’t brush it like the other girls or French braid it like they do in the locker room. I know how it gets bigger when it rains and how boys can’t run their fingers through it, but still, I see how it stands like a crown on your perfect head. Wear it like one and show it off like it represents royalty because it does.”
Quinn told Spectrum News at the launch of the exhibit Thursday, that she wanted to dive into who she was as a person and explore her identity.
“I wanted to learn more about my culture and embrace the new world,” she said. “Be one with everyone else while embracing my own uniqueness.”
For Varieur, the student from Fullerton, she wanted to send an important message.
“To the kids all too familiar with selecting ‘other as a race,” she wrote. “To the kids sick of explaining ad nauseam why you look like how you do. To the kids’ too Asian’ or ‘not Asian enough.’ To the kids walking the line between two worlds, feeling a part of neither...You deserve a voice, even if it doesn’t sound like what the world is used to hearing. You’re supposed to be here, and you’re supposed to be mixed. Don’t let ignorance rob you of your identity. Don’t let conformity rob you of your duality. Don’t let being tired stop you from being proud.”
The free exhibit will be displayed until the end of August. Then it will travel to select locations such as libraries, museums and cultural centers across the Southern California region, Intertrend officials said.
Additionally, people can check out the virtual exhibit here.