THS Junior Wins New York Times “Coming of Age” Contest


Michelle Lee and Alyssa Shin

On March 7th, THS junior Rebecca Wong was featured in the New York Times article “Coming of Age: Teens on a Year That Changed Everything” after her “Coming of Age” contest win. Through words and images, 5,500 teens across the country submitted an answer to the question of “How has this year challenged and changed your generation?” Wong was one of 24 students selected for their artwork. 

Wong’s piece is of herself in a mirror with words, written on her arms and face, that represent the neglect and racism that Asian Americans have been receiving. The main point of her photo is that there has always been racism towards Asian Americans, but it was just overlooked and normalized. During this past pandemic, Asian Americans have started to speak up through outlets including social media and local protests. “For the “Coming of Age” contest, I looked back on 2020 and distinctly recalled two prominent feelings: fear and paranoia. The rise of hate crimes towards the Asian community created turmoil in my mind,” Wong said. “Every day I saw numerous news reports featuring new faces and different victims, and it got me thinking, what if I’m next? Will I ever be safe going out in public? A new idea was planted in my head — that perhaps some people only saw me as someone to blame.”

Wong recalls that one of her own experiences, in particular, triggered the creation of her photo. After going out in public for the first time after months, she had this gut-wrenching feeling that people were going to target her because of how she looked. Her mind was tainted with the overwhelming fear of being targeted. Additionally, it generated an identity crisis in her, especially regarding her identity as an Asian American. Considering this, the photo was her way of capturing how she felt during a time when the Asian community was and still is unjustly blamed.

Wong expresses the feeling of responsibility to create a visual representation of the hurt and fear she ultimately felt. “In the picture, I am looking into the mirror and seeing the comments that people are saying to me. The smudges are from my attempts to become ‘more American,’ though despite my efforts, they never really go away,” she said. Wong wishes to spark a conversation about the bigger issue that’s happening in America. For as long as she can remember, Asian racism has been a part of her story—2020 and recent events have only brought it back into the spotlight. “We need to start conversations in which people are open and honest about themselves,” Wong added. “My intention, besides sharing my perspective, was to get people to talk about the problems that we need to fix for the sake of our futures.”

Wong’s piece has been implemented in a New York Times lesson plan that helps students open a line of communication to talk about relevant current events. It also has been reposted by Min-Jin Lee, Asian American author of Pachinko and Free Food For Millionaires. The caption of her repost reads: “This image by 17-year-old Rebecca Wong reflects what I have witnessed from interviewing thousands of Asians around the world. When a child is hated for an immutable characteristic (race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physiognomy, religion, disability, socioeconomic background), the hatred is rarely rejected. More often than not, the child swallows the poison, and the hated person hates herself.”

“I’m really happy that people are openly using my piece and giving it to others as a source to start eradicating this problem,” Wong said. “In the end, we are the future, and in order not to make the same mistakes that lead to the hate we see today, we must start seeing life from each others’ perspectives.” Congratulations to Rebecca Wong, whose piece communicates an integral conversation that America must pursue.