She was in third grade when her social studies teacher told the class about how great it was that the missionaries had come to California to help civilize all the “savages.” Her teacher said that without the missions, these “savages” would not have been able to adopt a superior white culture.
She came home that day in tears. With her hair, leather ties and braids, she was the image of her Native American heritage. People made fun of her for it — calling her Pocahontas, Sacagawea and echoing her teacher’s description of “savage.” The insults were relentless, and they only stopped after fifth grade when she finally moved schools.
The first time she heard her teacher refer to Native Americans as “savages,” she was ashamed. Her face was bright red, and she was sweating and shaking. She knew her family wasn’t savage. She knew they did great things and were great people who were generous, kind, loving and family-oriented. She saw these traits in American culture too. So she thought, doesn’t that make us the same? Why are you saying that we’re savage? When her teacher assigned the class a project to make a replica of a mission out of clay, she asked her mom for help. Her mom was immediately incensed, but she had been too young to understand why.
For Homestead High School English teacher Shawnee Rivera, it took a lot of therapy and help from her parents to undo this childhood trauma. Nevertheless, Rivera believes her experiences of being a minority in her classrooms acted as a catalyst for her activism efforts.
“I was always in the position of the oppressed person,” Rivera said. “I didn’t get why people judge people based on race, religion or gender. But rather than make me shrink and be wary, the bullying made me a fighter. So I got loud in class. By the time I got to middle school, if a teacher started talking about how Indians were savages, I immediately was like, ‘no we’re not.’ If a teacher did something that was racist or sexist or offensive, I dropped the class.”
As a teacher, Rivera strives to promote inclusivity in her classroom. She is a member of FUHSD Advocates for Change — a group of staff members in the district whose goals are to raise awareness about issues surrounding bias and racism that exist in the community, along with advocating for change.
“I’m pretty passionate about equity, lifting up people who are oppressed and ending oppression in education,” Rivera said. “[I want to] completely shift the institution to lift up all students so that it doesn’t privilege a couple groups, but [instead] privileges everybody.”
MVHS English teacher Kate Evard, also a member of the Advocates for Change group, echoes Rivera’s perspective, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the systemic racism in the district and everywhere else in the country.
“[Racism has] been a part of who we are forever, and acknowledging it and working towards anti-racism is something we all need to do,” Evard said. “We can talk about how to be anti-racist and to look at things through an anti-racist lens and to have frank, painful and uncomfortable discussions about how we all react to people who aren’t our race. White people aren’t the only people who are racist, every race is racist towards other races. There might be some exceptions out there, but not in our school, not in our community.”
Along with Evard, Fremont High School math and engineering teacher Bob Capriles notices the subtle racism and prejudice that many students within the Fremont Union High School District are forced to endure. He specifies that there have been many incidents where students — specifically students of color — have appeared noticeably upset due to discriminatory comments made by their peers.
“These are subtle under the breath things that if [I’m] not paying close attention, I could overlook,” Capriles said. “Frankly, that’s one of the main reasons I’ve gotten involved with the [Advocates for Change] group because I’m worried that there may be things that I’m missing in my own classroom that I don’t even know about. The last thing I want to do is be a passive supporter of these bias[ed] and racist things that may be happening between students. I need to become more conscientious of what I’m saying and doing in my own classroom.”
Capriles says another one of his motivations to join Advocates for Change is an experience he had after George Floyd’s murder. After hearing about this incident, Capriles’ 21-year-old son made a comment in passing about attending a protest. During the summer, they attended a Black Lives Matter protest at the three lane intersection on El Camino. He remembers walking on the streets instead of the sidewalk and being surrounded by so many people that the cars couldn’t pass. Capriles and his son brought a cooler for them to share.
“The thing that was most interesting for me was before we left, my son said to me, ‘Dad, if [the police start] shooting, we’re leaving the cooler,’” Capriles said. “And I hadn’t even really considered that that might be a possibility. But the police actually protected the protesters, they didn’t engage. My son was so amazed that the police didn’t harm us. [The protest] gave me a little bit more courage to want to get involved with [Advocates for Change] because I see too often students who are discouraged.”
Coming from the math and engineering department, Capriles often does not see opportunities to discuss race in his classroom. In contrast, as an English teacher, Evard believes that it is often the responsibility of the literature department to hold the whole district accountable regarding diverse curriculum. However, she feels that every teacher, administrator and employee has a responsibility to promote inclusion at MVHS.
Capriles agrees that activism is necessary at school, but recognizes that oftentimes teachers may feel apprehensive to take the necessary actions. He shares that they may be experts in the field they teach, but feel uncomfortable addressing racism and bias. According to Capriles, in order to make progress, staff members must be OK with being uncomfortable, noting that one of the biggest challenges of the Advocates for Change group is to spread their message to those who can make a concrete change.
“There are a number of people at FHS who are actually really scared of the repercussions of getting involved because they’ve experienced racial bias and racism directed towards them in the past,” Capriles said. “They’re worried that their livelihood as teachers is at risk if they speak up. One of the reasons that I chose to speak up [is because] I am a white male. I was raised with white privilege. I feel it’s important for me to speak for my colleagues who feel like their voices or their livelihood would be squelched if they were to speak up.”
Rivera too has witnessed teachers’ reluctance to participate in activism in their classrooms. In her experience, this lack of participation is mainly due to the large amount of work that it requires. She hopes to encourage her colleagues to do more for their students regarding equality and inclusivity.
“I want to help teachers understand that they’re in this profession not just to teach Chemistry, Calculus or Literature, [but also] to create a better world, a better democracy and a thinking society,” Rivera said. “Either you accept that you’re an activist or you stay with your blinders on. And I’ll never stop bothering them. I’ll never stop pushing teachers to be better versions of themselves.”
The group has taken several steps to pursue their mission, including meeting with FUHSD Superintendent Polly Bove and working closely with her to change each school’s curriculum — pushing for even more novels written by people of color and inclusive of all perspectives. Meetings with employees at the district level who plan teacher professional development have taken place as well. Rivera describes the collaboration between Advocates for Change and the district as a “think tank” focused on how the staff can best serve the students.
Rivera remembers a time in 2010 when advocacy at FUHSD was much more difficult than it is now. Back then, she and three other HHS teachers examined data surrounding race and noticed that there were higher amounts of students of a certain race and special education students being suspended, disciplined and expelled. She and her colleagues confronted the HHS principal about it and found that he was already trying to fix the problem, but was receiving pushback.
Additionally, at this time, teachers were not taking part in anti-bias training. According to Rivera, this meant racial biases were frequently “seeping out” into teaching. She noticed that her students of color would get disciplined harshly, and students who were white or Asian would not get punished for the same behaviors. Rivera marks this as a moment when she realized things were not truly fair.
Back in third grade, Rivera got a glimpse of this unfair treatment through her social studies teacher’s biased comments made about her Native American culture. When assigned the mission project, Rivera waited a few days before asking her mom why she was so mad about her assignment to remake a mission.
“She said, ‘You would not make a Jewish student recreate a concentration camp in tiny form to make it look cute,” Rivera said. “There’s no reason a Native American child should be asked to recreate a mission, because the missions were just as damaging to our culture.’ Those experiences in elementary school [made me] outspoken and loud. I was not a ‘good student.’ And that translates almost perfectly when I see kids in my class. Having that connection with my kids has saved me because what saved me [were] my teachers who saw me, who cared about me, who made me feel special. It helped to canonize in me that desire to do the same thing for my students.”
Rivera emphasizes the significance of being a teacher and being an activist.
“Teaching is activism,” Rivera said. “You should be an activist to be a teacher and vice versa. If we are going to start seeing true equality, especially in the U.S., we have to get people to empathize with other groups. Race was created to divide people, so my responsibility is to affect change and create change as often as I can. My responsibility is to get my colleagues on board and to help them with their own anti-biased and anti-racist work. My responsibility is to stand up for my students while also teaching them how to be anti-racist.”
Senior Nelson Mu walked to a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest on Saturday, June 6 not with a poster, but rather a camera in his hand. He wasn’t there to protest — he’d gone to collect a couple of interviews from the protesters and record footage of the mobilization of protesters. Mu says he plans to use the footage to support some of the legislation on police reform he was working on with Young American Policy Advocates, an organization dedicated to empowering students to improve policies by getting involved in research and advocacy.
Mu and the protesters arrived at the local police station and stood outside, waiting for officers to come out and address the crowd. Mu was eager to get an interview from a police officer to fully round out his footage and gather the perspectives of individuals from all sides of police reform. But the police never came out.
“I remember I was thinking, ‘This the Bay Area police,’” Mu said. “‘There’s no way they’re not going to open up the doors and have a couple people come out and talk to us and try to make some kind of peace.’ But there was nobody there.”
Instead, barricades surrounded the evacuated police station and a helicopter rotated overhead, monitoring the protesters. One sole officer peeked through the blinds of the window, reminding Mu of the Onceler in “The Lorax,” quietly observing the crowd behind the locked doors.
“That was the moment when I realized I can’t just be on the sidelines,” Mu said. “I can’t just be a bystander, someone who’s pushing for change on the sidelines, and being uninvolved. I need to become an activist, I need to become someone who’s taking real action. Because if I’m not, these people never come out and talk to us, right? These people will never come out and say anything to me if I’m not looking to talk to them first.”
Mu’s attendance at the protest, however, was not his first involvement in police reform. A couple days after George Floyd’s death, one of Mu’s contacts from YAPA, an economics and public policy major from UCLA, sent him a document titled “The George Floyd Act.” Spurred by an overwhelming sense of urgency, Mu and his friend got to work on the legislation, which aims to solve some of the issues with police brutality that have persisted. Mu recalls working on that document with his friend for five hours that first night, unable to rest until he felt he had been able to put something substantial down on paper.
Senior Elene Pilpani also began her journey into activism after witnessing the George Floyd protests spread across the country. Pilpani was hardly a stranger to the information that was overtaking the media — she’d gained exposure to much of the racial tensions across the U.S. through a Tumblr account she started in seventh grade — but seeing her social media feed flooded with information about racial issues in the U.S. pushed her to start talking to officials and expand to social media beyond activism.
Pilpani and her friend, fellow senior Arjan Madan, created email templates for students to send to the San Jose and Santa Clara mayor’s offices. The templates included details on how to make getting arrested a safer experience by reforming police policies as well as implement clean de-escalation policies and bans on specific chokeholds. Pilpani vividly remembers the night she and Madan published the templates, nervous that nobody would respond. The next morning, she checked the number of shares and people who clicked on the link for the templates. She and Madan, who had expected barely 10 responses, were amazed by the 150 people who had clicked on the template — a number that seems small to Pilpani in hindsight, but astounded her at the time.
Pilpani also works with Bay Area Uncovered, an organization that takes student testimonies from Bay Area high schools to highlight the discrimination that many are aware of in these schools. Another part of her efforts to diversify the high school experience is working with Ad Lucem, an organization that has started a petition to push for more inclusive AP classes.
Pilpani joined Ad Lucem after noticing how the only AP history courses currently offered by the College Board are U.S. History, European History and World History. Pilpani feels that schools should offer classes that cover the history of other parts of the world, like Latin History or Asian History, rather than grouping Europeans into one category and the rest of the world into another.
Senior Janya Budaraju’s primary focus is also in education – after Floyd’s death she started working with an organization called Diversify Our Narrative to diversify the voices in English and history curriculum at MVHS and across FUHSD. Budaraju credits much of her awareness about racial injustices and her willingness to have open and difficult conversations to her Honors American Literature class. The momentum from the George Floyd protests, however, is what pushed her to join DON and become more involved in the activism scene.
Budaraju and fellow DON members senior Nitya Yerraguntla and junior Riya Ranjan have had multiple conversations with district leaders, administrators and students at each of the FUHSD sites to increase the anti-racism education across the district. Over summer, they developed a “Tier List,” a list of anti-racist resources for teachers, ranging from starting the discussion on anti-racism to implementing new novels in the curriculum.
Budaraju says she has had an overwhelmingly positive experience working with people throughout the community to institute change. She is constantly inspired by how many people want to be a part of the change and work that fellow activists are doing at the local and national level.
“It is great to know that we are not alone in this movement and we have the support of not only a national organization, but multiple teachers in multiple schools are already working on this [as well],” Budaraju said. “I’ve learned that the movement has a lot of support, but it’s up to each of us to find a different way to get involved because there’s a place that each person can help. It’s just a matter of finding that place.”
Finding Their Voice
Budaraju stresses the importance of getting educated on racial issues and taking the time to research beyond the information offered on social media. Pilpani echoes her sentiment, emphasizing the importance of treating BLM as something greater than a social media trend, especially after BLM posts fade from social media feeds.
“I think you should actively be signing petitions [and] you should be educating yourself at the very least, because sharing an Instagram post saying ‘The Black Lives Matter movement hasn’t died’ isn’t going to contribute anything,” Pilpani said. “If you truly believe [BLM] hasn’t died, then you need to actively be working toward something that will keep it up.”
Budaraju recognizes that expressing opinions at the expense of possible humiliation can be intimidating. Growing up, she struggled with finding her voice because of anxiety and general shyness, and therefore she understands how having a voice is a privilege, one she has tried to help others recognize through her role as the president of MV Debate Club. Through her activism, she has made an effort to use the resources and platform she has available to her to speak up for the people who aren’t able to do so.
Mu understands that activism and speaking up comes with its fair share of challenges – for him, it can often feel futile because instituting change takes so long. In moments where Mu feels dejected, he pushes himself to change his mindset and remember that change is made in small steps, and that speaking up at any level is always better than remaining silent.
“You might not be the most integral part of the movement, you might not be the one that tips the scales in favor of whatever you’re advocating for,” Mu said. “But consider this: What if everybody in the movement had the mindset that they didn’t matter? What if everybody thought that, ‘Oh, surely this is not my fight. Someone else could do what I do, and they’d be just as successful.’ If everyone thought like that nothing would get done. Nobody would be part of any movement.”
Initially, Junior Gabi Morali did not register the gravity of George Floyd’s murder when she heard about it on the news. Although his murder struck fear in her and she recognized it was a tragic event, she was not actively involved in the advocacy aspect — that is, until the protests started. With millions of people participating in hundreds of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in every state across the country, the surge of advocacy and activism on social media also began to erupt. Morali began to see her peers posting petitions and infographics and spreading awareness about police brutality. Despite initially questioning if posting on her Instagram story would be considered performative, she eventually started using it as an activist platform.
“Because of the virus, I decided to try to make some sort of change online and extend my knowledge into things such as signing petitions.” Morali said. “Reading about the history of systemic racism in the U.S. triggered something in me that continually made me so mad that our country has let it happen for nearly 400 years, so I knew that I had to share this knowledge with other people, even if some of them knew about it before.”
Sophomore Annika Lee had a more personal connection with her inspiration to begin advocating on social media: her older brother. Seeing her brother encourage others to make a change by signing petitions and donating, Lee wanted to make a similar same impact.
Lee believes that one of the benefits of activism on social media platforms is that people are signing many helpful petitions that highlight solutions to important issues and discovering smaller, grassroots organizations to donate to.
Similarly to Morali, junior Siddhartha Mishra believes that posting Instagram stories can shed light on issues. He also points out that because of social media activism, more people are hearing about important issues, encouraging them to protest. Despite acknowledging the many positive effects of social media advocacy, Mishra believes there are several of negative aspects as well.
“A lot of the stuff you’ll see will be political, and a lot of Instagram accounts are skewed to one viewpoint, one view of the world, one ideology,” Mishra said. “When you keep promoting that [ideology], you basically try to force this view on other people. So don’t believe everything on face value; it is still a social media site and not many people are putting thought into what they’re spreading.”
Morali agrees that most people reshare posts mindlessly and don’t take the time to fact- check their information, leading to the spread of fake news. For example, she saw a post about Autism Awareness Month posted in June, though this takes place in April. Doubting the reliability of the post, Morali looked it up and informed her followers that it wasn’t accurate and encouraged them to not repost it.
Even though advocating on social media can appear to be as easy as clicking a button, being open about one’s political views can lead to complications. According to Lee, it takes courage to speak up against societal issues, and social media activists can often face backlash.
She recounts a specific instance when someone responded negatively to a repost from @pinkmantaray on Instagram that she had shared on her story. The commenter had responded that Schuyler Bailar, like all other transgender athletes, should not be able to compete in the gender they identify with.
This was one of Lee’s first experiences dealing with a disrespectful comment regarding something she cared about, and she decided to respond to the situation by blocking the account.
“I just blocked her because it’s not worth my time to argue with her,” Lee said. “Because just dealing with that hate is awful — it puts you in a terrible headspace and just removing yourself from the situation is honestly the best thing you can do.”
While Morali has experienced similar comments and responses, she has a different way of approaching the situation.
“Sometimes when I criticize the government or President Trump, other people try to refute that and send me articles and try to say those are just allegations and ask me how I know if they’re real,” Morali said. “I like to look at other people’s perspectives because it’s disrespectful to have someone talk to you and to ignore their opinion when they have to listen to yours. I think it’s very important to listen to what other people have to say.”
Though a number of people choose social media activism as a way to express their beliefs and opinions, many decide it is not something they want to pursue. According to Morali, from the 200 people who view her story daily, only about 20 of them actually advocate online.
“I think [people who don’t post] are either afraid of getting backlash, which is mainly just rooted from fear or maybe they just don’t care enough to repost it,” Morali said. “They don’t exactly recognize their privilege — when they see a lot of people reposting about global issues and they don’t do anything about it, that is ignoring your privilege.”
Like Morali, Lee believes that posting about social issues on your story is a great way to show your involvement. She mentions that posting is not necessarily something you need to do to be involved in activism. However, she also believes that people doing nothing to support an important cause are not recognizing their privilege.
Mishra believes a downside of posting on stories is when activists guilt people who choose not to post, and he believes that is where it becomes a “slippery slope.”
“You shouldn’t be trying to guilt people or force them into doing specific things for specific political agendas or specific ideologies that they may not believe in,” Mishra said. “You have to respect other people and say ‘I’ve given you the information, now it’s your responsibility to do something.’ That’s why I think a lot of people on Instagram and social media believe that it’s their responsibility to make sure that everyone is doing this, but it’s not. It’s not your responsibility to make other people do anything.”
On the Tuesday after Floyd’s death, the BLM movement on the rise, a hashtag on Instagram, #blackouttuesday went viral. This hashtag was an initiative started by those in the entertainment industry who wouldn’t be performing or releasing content in order to honor black lives. To participate, an individual would post a black screen on their Instagram account along with “#BlackoutTuesday” in their caption. While the hashtag was started with good intentions, Morali says she thought it was a prime example of performative activism, since most people were uninformed of the real message behind it.
“My opinion is when people who are very performative are doing things like [posting a black square], it gives other people on social media a false image of who they are,” Morali said. “I know some people that are performative, but behind social media, they still make sexist or racist jokes, and that is just not good.”
Similarly, Mishra points out that people who post just to boost their own morale are not doing anything to actually help and that social activism is not something that should be done to seem like a better person.
“[Performative activists] almost want to be morally superior to everyone else, so they post all of these things to say, ‘Oh, I’m so much better than all of you guys because I post these things and I help people’ when really, they don’t care,” Mishra said. “That’s not their main incentive for doing such things, and it’s just selfish at the end of the day.”
While Mishra believes that advocating on social media is vital for spreading important information and educating people, he doesn’t think it will cause significant social change. He mentions how activism has been happening for so long, yet no monumental results have been seen, and for real change to occur, Mishra states that it must happen through legislation.
Mishra says that an alternative to activism on social media would be to discuss your opinions with people, including your parents, grandparents and friends. He stresses the importance of having the information and posts we see online reach those who don’t often access social media.
“I think your responsibility is A) to educate people around you and B) to call your legislators, and I know it’s been overdone, but it actually has an impact,” Mishra said. “You can see that since we’ve had a lot more legislation in the House of Representatives even on state level. I think that’s the way it was intended to happen, because the political body was designed where you tell your representative and the representatives vote for you.”
Morali also has other ideas on how we can further activism, specifically through the creation of active participation in clubs or organizations. In fact, she hopes to start a club in her senior year that focuses on Jewish culture to explain her perspective of the Israeli- Palestine conflict.
“I guess what made me so passionate about [advocating] was wanting to make a change in the future to things like end systemic racism, anti-Semitism and other topics I’m passionate about,” Morali said. “I really hope that one day I’ll have the power to do that.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, MVHS alumnae Claudia Leung, ‘04, was sitting in their first-period Chemistry class as a sophomore thinking it would be an ordinary day at school — until their teacher abruptly stopped the class to announce that the Twin Towers in New York City had fallen. A sense of confusion had initially struck Leung. Without really knowing the severity of the incident at that moment, Leung had gone home after school and turned on the TV. For the first time, they witnessed what they said was the horrifying and eerie footage of the Twin Towers collapsing.
Leung notes this moment of realization to be the beginning of their journey with activism. As a freshman in high school, Leung notes how the current president at the time, George W. Bush, had shaped a lot of their generation’s mindset when it came to national political and social issues like 9/11. While Bush passed the Patriot Act, enforced anti-immigration rhetoric and targeted the Muslim community during his presidency, Leung explains how they had still felt “protected” in the Bay Area from all of the chaos present in America at the time.
“Growing up in Cupertino, there’s a little bit of that isolationism — I felt protected,” Leung said. “But I also noticed that there were changes, especially in regard to Muslim individuals being targeted [after] 9/11. I had friends in high school who were Muslim or who were South Asian and were perceived to be possibly Muslim or Arab. Just seeing the way that [their] lives changed after 9/11 started to politicize me.”
It wasn’t until they reached college when Leung started to take action. After majoring in architecture and switching to a media studies major and American studies minor at Macalester College, Leung had become politicized academically. They got involved with many on-campus organizations that gave them opportunities to do a variety of activism work that touched on environmental issues, racial and gender inequality and social justice.
“There were definitely things that I tried [in college] that I don’t think I would do today because I know myself as an activist a lot better, “ Leung said. “But that’s part of the experience of when you’re growing up and coming into your understanding what it means to be an activist — you try different things out. Hopefully people who try things out don’t get turned off by something that doesn’t work because [activism is] an iterative process.”
After college, Leung got involved with organizations in Saint Paul, Minnesota — including working for the AmeriCorps and a science museum to give young people of color and women the opportunity to explore STEM careers. In 2011, Leung decided to move back to the Bay Area to work for the Center for Asian American Media and Asians 4 Black Lives, which gave them more opportunities to work specifically on civil rights advocacy.
“A political home [like Asians 4 Black Lives] has been what I was looking for,” Leung said. “Coming together and finding other people of Asian descent that felt politically aligned around so many issues ... has meant a lot for me. It also felt like we could work together and struggle together on difficult things [that were hard] for us to understand conceptually or accept emotionally.”
As a newly recruited Grants Manager for Just Beginnings Collaborative, an organization that helps raise funds to end childhood sexual violence and abuse, Leung has many hopes for this new role. While Leung has experience with different types of activism, they want young high schoolers to not be afraid to get involved with issues they are passionate about.
“Don’t be scared if [the work you’re doing] is hard or it’s not perfect or exactly what you think it should be because that’s how you learn,” Leung said. “I definitely went through lots of iterations of being in organizations that didn’t quite fit me ... before I came to the place where now I feel like I have a political home. [Feeling content with the activism work you do] doesn’t happen right away and that’s OK — that’s a part of the process.”
When MVHS alumni Tarun Galagali, ‘09, was preparing to run for school board in the Fremont Union High School District (FUHSD) in early 2019, he had posted a status update on his Facebook account with a question: If you could redo your childhood, what would you do differently? As he was thinking of different policies and reforms he wanted to implement in FUHSD if he won, Galagali immediately thought of various mental health resources students should be able to access.
While he ended up losing the school board election, Galagali was able to reconnect with high school friend and MVHS alumni Varun Pai , ‘10, via a Facebook post. The two ended up meeting up to discuss plans for how alumni can connect with current students to help them with their mental well being. After connecting with a few other alumni from various South Bay high schools, Galagali established Pass The Torch in mid-2019.
“Every person we bring on [to the Pass The Torch team] was trained to help high school students develop greater clarity around their future planning,” Galagali said. “[We hope to help students by] figuring out how to manage their internal weather as they go through high school and ups and downs of life ... We teach [students] basically how to tell their life story, how to manage their emotional states, how to figure out what they care about for their future to plan the right careers.”
As he had helped U.S. representative Ro Khanna’s political campaign in 2014, Galagali believes that his main advocacy work has to do with pushing Bay Area students to get involved.
“My activism [work is] largely centered around engaging and mobilizing young people to care about politics,” Galagali said. “I think students, particularly in the Bay Area, are incredibly capable — they’re super passionate, capable, wise and determined.”
While Galagali now focuses on mental health advocacy for Bay Area students, he hopes to expand Pass The Torch broadly enough so that every student can have alumni mentorship and receive help. In the meantime, he hopes that students will learn effective strategies to better control their emotions and their own life — by doing so, he believes that everyone can be an effective activist.
“I think the prerequisite to being a really effective activist is accepting yourself, weirdly enough — it’s accepting reality and [once you do], then you [have the ability to] change it,” Galagali said. “Accept how you’re feeling — don’t fight it. Then, the reactions will come in a more sagely way and you start to realize what you [truly] need to do [to prevent certain issues or concerns].”
When applying to college during high school, MVHS alumnae Catherine Shieh, ‘10, says she was plagued with a common dilemma — she had no clue what she wanted to study. She then devised a plan to figure it out. After randomly selecting the University of Southern California (USC) and printing out the list of all majors available at the school, she started going down the list and marked off any major that seemed interesting to her. She ultimately applied as a political science major and was accepted.
The decision to attend USC helped kickstart Shieh’s career as a member in the California state legislature, an Ethic studies teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and an anti-hate training coordinator. However, her passions for civil engagement and social justice emerged long before college.
“When I was working at Vision New America [in high school] , there became this whole idea [of] ‘Oh, people actually do this for a job?’” Shieh said. “Thinking about the careers that many of our parents have [in the Bay Area] who may be immigrants, many of us come here with [one set vision of potential careers] — it really determines so much of our lives. [So,] it was mind blowing to think like, ‘Oh, you meet with constituents, people actually get paid to do this [and] it’s a full time gig.’”
In college, Shieh was heavily involved with organizations relating to politics, including The College Democrats and The Institute of Politics. While Shieh had a passion for politics, she was interested specifically in tackling public policy issues regarding education. Shieh ended up following a career path with Teach For America, a non-profit organization that helps recruit college students for finding a job within the re
alm of education to help low-income students.
In August of 2014, Shieh ended up securing a job as an Government and Economics teacher in LAUSD and later as an Ethnic studies teacher in the same school district in August of 2016. She notes the ironic nature of “falling into” a career of ethnic studies and the impact it has had on not only her life, but also her students.
“I feel privileged to know that I [had] liv[ed] in a state in which there is a political climate that allowed me to have done what I did … It was the coolest experience [being an ethnic studies teacher],” Shieh said.“I also don’t think I had ever told students to become activists — I was just telling them that ‘These are our identities’ and by exploring [different communities of individuals], students started to create clubs on their own [around advocacy work]. It was really cool to know that not only did I make an impact, but there were steps being made towards systemic change within the school campuses [I was teaching at].”
As a current anti-hate training coordinator for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Sheih has been doing civic engagement work involving racial equity in Chicago, Illinois. Shieh encourages younger students interested in doing the same to not be deterred by difficulties.
“You will be tested and you will be tried,” Shieh said. “If you’re just kind of going along and moving with the tide, fine. If it’s something you want to study as a college major, what is driving you to do that and what will help you keep going when like sh*t gets tough? There are things that I have needed to let go of what it means to be a[n] MVHS Asian-American. So reflect on what you are willing to give up [once you do leave MVHS, whether that’d be] income, relationships, home or reputation.”
*Correction [9/23/2020 8:32 p.m.], Misspelling of the name Tarun Galagali was corrected throughout the article.
*Correction [9/27/2020 2:17 p.m.], Errors in a photo caption and descriptions of an anecdote, both from Leung’s mini-feature, had been corrected.