A high school valedictorian in New York spoke out against the anti-Asian racism she experienced at the hands of her classmates and teachers throughout her entire public school education.
A heartfelt speech: The pre-recorded video of Francine “Frannie” Newman, delivering her valedictory address at Saranac Lake High School, was released on Friday as part of the school’s commencement exercises screening.
- The video, which premiered before graduates and their families on Friday night as a drive-in movie in a field at Tucker Farms in Gabriels, has since been posted on the SLHS website.
- In her speech, Newman recalled that she experienced being singled out for her race since she was a daycare student. She recounted children nicknaming her and her brother “Fortune Cookie” and “Eggroll.”
- She noted that she didn’t mind the race jokes and admitted that she was guilty of making the same jokes as well.
- “I know there’s not a lot of diversity in the area, and I know that no one has ever intended to hurt me with what they say; there’s a lack of education and understanding, and it is not the fault of anyone living here. Knowing this, and growing up knowing this, did not make any of it hurt any less.”
- According to Newman, transferring to Petrova Elementary in Saranac Lake in second grade made the situation worse for her as the “jokes” turned into “blatant racism.”
- “In a larger pool of kids, and in an older pool of kids, innocent race questions turn quickly into blatant racism,” she said. “They tugged at the sides of their eyes and said they couldn’t have me over to their houses because I would eat their dogs.”
- Newman was told to “toughen up,” with adults excusing the other children’s behavior as just them “being kids,” that it was “all jokes” and that her reaction was just her being sensitive. She was also told that she wasn’t going to make friends if she did not adjust.
- “And so I did. I toughened up. I began to make the jokes before other people could. I began to respond to the new nicknames the kids on the back of the bus gave me. Gone were the days of ‘Fortune Cookie,’ replaced instead with ‘Chink,’ ‘Ling Ling,’ ‘China’ and ‘Squinty Eyes.’ These were trying times. Sink or swim. I wanted the friends and I didn’t care how I got them, even if I felt myself growing to hate the way I looked as much as it seemed everyone else did.”
Growing self-hate: Newman shared that as she got older, she began to resent her own culture and even hated her own mother for making her look the way she does.
- Newman recalled a situation where she was given to the wrong parent after a class trip.
- “Adults in my life have played just as large a role in reinforcing my self-loathing as kids have,” she added. “In third grade, I was given to the wrong parent at the end of a field trip, because the parent was Asian, with the excuse, ‘You all just look the same.’ In eighth grade a classmate was asked by the teacher, ‘In this room, who is going to get into college first?’ and was forced to choose Jackson and myself, seeing as we were the ethnic minorities.
- Newman added that she felt held back by her ethnicity in future accomplishments.
- “We were told that we were lucky to not be white, even though in that moment I would have given anything to blend in with the rest of the class, and would have given anything to think that my future accomplishments would be based on merit and not on race.”
Standing proud: At the end of her speech, Newman shared how she eventually outgrew the resentment she developed from years of racism.
- “Today, standing before you, I can finally say that I am proud — proud of everything I have done, proud of where I am heading in the fall [Middlebury College in Vermont], proud of what I look like, proud of my heritage and proud of my mom.”
- “I am thankful for the person I was forced to become, and I am thankful that one day I will have the opportunity to teach my own kids about their culture and about acceptance. My only regret leaving high school is not having had these revelations sooner.”
- Thanking friends, parents, classmates and teachers for the experience, she said, “I am so thankful to have been a part of this class.
- “Over these four years, we’ve all found self-acceptance, and we’ve all grown into the people we were meant to become.”