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Trailblazers of Racial Literacy: Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo
Suchitra Shenoy Packer
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Suchitra Shenoy Packer

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Suchitra has previously worked as a journalist, a PR officer, and a professor. She is currently a stay-at-home-working-mom to two multiracial kids, the inspiration behind theParentVoice,.
Suchitra Shenoy Packer
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– Steve Jobs

They are teenagers but don’t mistake them for your everyday teenagers. And, all those stereotypes you may have heard about those teenage years…well let’s just say, there are stereotypes and then, there are stereotypes.

Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo are 18-year-old trailblazers charting a path of their own toward making a difference to our societies, one narrative, one story, and one reflection at a time.

In their first book, a 224-page textbook, The Classroom Index, Priya and Winona collected 150 stories in the format of short and long interviews, written reflections, and current events to highlight the racial realities of our communities. Designed and developed as a school textbook, The Classroom Index is suitable for all K-12 lesson plans. 

Priya and Winona are currently working on their second book, The Race Index. For this purpose, they are on a tour of all 5o states of the United States to collect personal experiences of racism and related lived realities of random strangers they chat up on the streets. Priya and Winona are thus blazing the trail toward promoting racial literacy. 

Given their changing schedules and travels, it was challenging to get the two down for an interview but we persevered and Priya and Winona were able to tape audio interviews for theParentVoice,. Presented below are excerpts transcribed from this taped interview. Content has only been edited for clarity and flow continuity. 

Before we get to discussing their books, let’s learn more about these dynamic young social entrepreneurs, authors, and trailblazers, well on their way to making change happen.

 

Recent graduates of Princeton High School, both Priya and Winona are 18-years-old. Priya says she likes to draw and paint and is particularly interested in painting portraits. She also enjoys watching and creating videos and movies. She has an older brother whom she considers a “frenemy”. Winona also likes music and in fact, plays two instruments, the piano and the erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument. She also likes to write, and collect socks. She has a younger brother and sister.  

Priya and Winona’s parents share a common immigration history. Both their parents immigrated to the United States from India and China respectively, in the 1980s for higher education. Priya’s parents pursued a Master’s degree at Northeastern University and work as computer engineers. Upon earning their degrees, Winona’s father went on to work in the pharmaceutical industry and mother works as a research assistant.  

Because details about how they got started on their organization, Choose, and The Classroom Index have already been discussed elsewhere in media (read this piece from TeenVogue), we have skipped these details and focused more on the people behind the scenes. As a Parenting Magazine, it is with great pride that we also present our readers with the voices of Mrs. and Mr. Vulchi and Mrs. and Mr. Guo below.

SSP: What are some memorable messages that you remember hearing from your parents regarding their immigrant experiences?

Priya – My parents came from a small village in Hyderabad, India and they always talk to me about how lucky we are and the kind of huge growth curve in their lives coming from a school that was literally under a tree, I believe, to now living in a town with a pretty prominent university, Princeton University. They have always valued education because that’s what helped them climb out of poverty and come to the United States.

Winona – It’s crazy because I never asked them about this until about a year ago and only then did they tell me in great detail about their experiences. My mom was telling me about how it was very difficult to academically navigate the system from China to the US. Once they got there, not knowing anybody and having a huge language (and cultural) barrier, not knowing, for example, that toilet paper was free or not knowing  where things were or how to travel from different places, just navigating that was very difficult. One specific thing they were telling me was they would just straight up memorize the dictionary so they could better understand the English language. I would never be able to memorize the English dictionary.

They would memorize the dictionary to better understand the English language. Click To Tweet

SSP: How was it for you growing up as first-generation U.S. born children of immigrant parents? As “hyphenated Americans”, if you will?

I was kind of ashamed of the Indian attached to the American. Couldn't be prouder now. Click To Tweet

Priya – Growing up Indian-American, I was kind of ashamed of the Indian attached to the American but now I couldn’t be prouder of being Indian-American. I think being hyphenated Americans is like literally and visually you see the dash between both identities and you see the pull and the tug from both sides. The Indian side of me and my American side, especially being the first generation to grow up in the United States, it was always this imbalance or the need to find a balance between our lives at home and our lives in school or elsewhere.

Winona

Winona – When I was younger, I always hated the “Chinese” part of that and wanted to get rid of that and to only claim the American. It is only recently after starting Choose, that I have more boldly been able to reclaim the Chinese in my identity.

I wanted to get rid of the 'Chinese' part and only claim the American part. Click To Tweet

I read this study a few months ago about how people grow up in this one cultural space, Space A, and people grow up in this other space, Space B. For people who have hyphenated identities, you know, Chinese-American, it’s almost like this third space you have to create on your own and learn to navigate. For me, going from where we at home, talked often about Chinese culture and going to school where in middle school there were only white people all around me, it was very interesting trying to figure out in a way that nobody had taught me to navigate two different cultures and still find my own way I guess to live and love both and create something new out of that.

I had to navigate two cultures to find my own way to live and love both and create something new. Click To Tweet

Parents’ Voices

Priya Family

Please give us a brief background of your immigration history particularly, the circumstances under which you immigrated to the US and why?

We came to the U.S. for our Master’s degrees. We completed our masters and were hired in the campus recruitment process by a technology company in Boston next to MIT.

Did you ever discuss topics like race, prejudice, discrimination, and the like with your kids growing up?

At first, these were not topics we discussed with our kids when they were young. However, these issues got more discussed as our kids entered teenage years and started teaching us.

Were there ever any incidents of racial bullying or name-calling that you, someone in your family, or your children faced? If so, how did you handle this attack on personal dignity? How did you make sense of these negative experiences?

There was one such incident of racism when my daughter was in Pre-k and she was unable to forget that particular event—it surprised me when she brought that incident up during her teenage years, but we did try to discuss it as a family.

What lessons have your shared/taught your children with regard to race in the U.S.?

Make sure you treat others the way you wanted to be treated.

What are your biggest hopes and wishes for your children/daughter?

They succeeded in what they started. Even if they bring change in 1% of the population that is a big change for me.

What are your thoughts about your daughter’s amazing work on her books, her book tours, her mission of social justice, and her commitment to making a change that matters?

Both the girls have been very determined from the beginning. They have done amazing work so far and have never stopped moving forward with their ideas.

What would you like to tell your daughter through the medium of theParentVoice, Magazine that you may not have already told them?

There is a quote from Chize Avis ” Students must have initiative; They must not be mere imitators. They should learn to think and act for themselves —and be free.” We are just very simply proud of them.

Winona Family

Please give us a brief background of your immigration history particularly, the circumstances under which you immigrated to the US and why?

We,  Winona’s parents, came to the U.S. for graduate study right after college.

Did you ever discuss topics like race, prejudice, discrimination, and the like with your kids growing up?

We talked often about Chinese culture and used the Chinese language and we compared Eastern and Western cultures.

Were there ever any incidents of racial bullying or name-calling that you, someone in your family, or your children faced? If so, how did you handle this?

Winona was once called “China Girl” in kindergarten by two of her classmates. We reported it to the school. The school handled it well. We feel education is needed for kids to prevent this type of incident

What lessons have your shared/taught your children with regard to race in the US?

U.S. is blessed by its multi-race, multi-culture environment and also challenged by it. Race issue is a long-term issue and it can’t be solved by a few people.

What are your biggest hopes and wishes for your children/daughter?

We hope our kids could have a lifelong passion to care about the race issue. At the meantime, they need to figure out what they want for themselves in their careers and in their personal life.

What are your thoughts about your daughter’s amazing work on her books, her book tours, her mission of social justice, and her commitment to making a change that matters?

We are proud of these two kids, their fellow classmates, their friends, our school district, teachers and administrators and the professors from some good universities… Their multilateral effort made this happen. This work will help educate our young kids to understand race and other issues.

Continued on Page 2 – Keep reading to know more about what their books, The Classroom Index and The Race Index, mean to Priya and Winona, and to watch video previews of two of the stories included in their book.

 




the author

Suchitra has previously worked as a journalist, a PR officer, and a professor. She is currently a stay-at-home-working-mom to two multiracial kids, the inspiration behind theParentVoice,.

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