From classics like “The Breakfast Club” and “Saved by the Bell,” to the more (semi) recent “Mean Girls” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” depictions of high school life in pop culture have at least one thing in common, no matter what the plot line is.
And that is the fact that high school is very cliquey: The jocks hang together, the more academically inclined stick to themselves, the band kids play amongst themselves, and so on.
This even rings true in the magical world. At J.K. Rowling’s fictional school of witchcraft and wizardry, Hogwarts, students rarely become friends with anyone outside of their house. You rarely see a Hufflepuff spending time with a Ravenclaw. Want to see an interaction between a Gryffindor and Slytherin that doesn’t end in violence? Good luck.
This is because human beings, as a species, tend to stick with our own kind. Like attracts like. It’s because it’s comfortable to be around those who are similar to us. It’s safe.
In his memoir, “How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents,” actor Jimmy O. Yang writes about his experiences as an actor, including while he was on the set filming “Crazy Rich Asians.” He writes — and has discussed in interviews while promoting the film over the summer — about what it was like to be on a set where he wasn’t the only (read: token) Asian. Yang said he was able to be himself and did not have to explain or qualify anything regarding his background. For example, when members of the cast would go out to dinner in Singapore and Malaysia — where they were filming — he said they didn’t have to worry about anyone being squeamish when it came to the more unusual dishes. Everyone was used to the food because it was what a lot of them grew up eating.
Feeling like you belong is important. And when you’re among people who share similar backgrounds — whether that’s racial, religious, political, or socioeconomic — that feeling is relatively easy to find.
But when you’re among people who are different from you — at least on the surface — that sense of belonging becomes more elusive.
Earlier this month, from Sept. 14-23, communities across the country, including throughout the Eastside, celebrated Welcoming Week. This movement, led by the nonprofit Welcoming America, focuses on creating more inclusive and welcoming communities.
According to the Welcoming America website, communities are changing. This can “spark tension and create new challenges, both for newcomers and longtime residents…the strongest communities will be ones where all people can take part in economic, civic, and social life. These places show it is possible to go beyond fear and even tolerance for a bright future for all.”
In observance of Welcoming Week, Eastside communities have held events that bring together their diverse populations, ranging from an “Ask a Muslim” event in Redmond, to a church in Kirkland collecting supplies for “starter kits” for refugee families, to a culture wall at the Sammamish YMCA inviting people to share stories about their personal backgrounds.
All of these different activities and events are great. I wholeheartedly support them. But shouldn’t our communities be this welcoming year round? Shouldn’t we be connecting with our neighbors regularly?
With this in mind, welcome to Windows and Mirrors.
This is my effort to bring our communities together by highlighting underrepresented populations and shining the spotlight on people and groups who typically do not receive as much air time or print space in the mainstream. My goal is to give you, the reader, a window into lives and experiences you may not be familiar with, and hopefully to serve as a mirror for those who have rarely seen themselves and their stories reflected back at them in media (thank you to Hannah Ehrlich of children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books for those terms).
Will this column solve racism, sexism, homophobia or any other -ism or phobia out there? No. I do not have visions of the whole Eastside holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.”
But I do hope that what you get out of this is a better understanding of who your neighbors are and realize that we really aren’t that different.
This is the Eastside. This is our community. We all have stories. What’s yours?
Windows and Mirrors is a bimonthly column focused on telling the stories of people whose voices are not often heard. If you have something you want to say, contact editor Samantha Pak at spak@sound publishing.com.