“How did you feel about ‘Asians Are Smart’?” my history teacher asked. The homework was to read an article concerning the depiction of the model minority.
“I think it’s right. Asians are naturally smarter than other races,” a classmate said.
“Yeah, specialized high schools are majority Asian for a reason,” someone added.
“They are majority Asian because of the segregation of knowledge. My Black and Hispanic middle school classmates didn’t know the Specialized High School Admissions Test existed. There are plenty of us who are equally deserving-.” My voice cracked. Despite my internal pleads, I began to cry. I felt indignant, alone, and betrayed by my peers.
As the only Black student in every high school class I have taken, my melanin obligated me to speak on every phenomenon that affected Black Americans. Although I enjoy talking about my ancestors’ sense of community and resilience, sometimes I prefer to be taught in my history class rather than teaching others about the Black experience.
I do not mind educating others about my life. I mind my feelings—the very ones I’m asked to share—being rejected as if they were an incorrect answer rather than respected. I mind the pressure to represent all Afro-Latino students rather than just myself. I mind my classmates crediting my accomplishments to my skin color rather than my dedication. I mind taking space as the Black girl rather than Jordan.
My experience was not ideal nor unique. It was a part of a cycle; this was something I had to prevent from happening to the next student. Armed with a story begging to be shared, I waited for the right opportunity to step up to the microphone.
“And your 2017 National American Miss New York Jr. Teen is… Jordan Sanchez!” The room went quiet. I didn’t feel there anymore. I was back in my hotel bathroom, struggling to put on fake eyelashes. I was preparing to be interviewed by a panel of judges. Here, I explained not only why I deserved to win, but how I was already a queen in my own right. My experience of isolation would make me a relatable queen that can mentor others in similar situations. Together, the girls in my community and I can overcome our issues concerning self-worth. The tears flowed from my eyes to my cheeks as I stepped in front of the line of girls. With a bouquet of roses in one hand, a sparkly crown on my head, and a “Miss New York” embroidered sash across my chest, I took my first walk as queen.
Throughout my reign, I remembered the reason why I won: to be an uplifting role model for those in my community. After being rejected from an internship with the largest beauty pageant website, I started my own. I aimed to become a tangible titleholder, someone who felt approachable, genuine, and within reach, so I did just that. I became The Queen Next Door. Dedicated to building confidence in youth of color, my platform has made my story worth sharing. My sash has stood behind the podiums of multiple schools in the tri-state area, emphasizing the importance of confidence, patience, and a positive and forgiving attitude to over 1,100 Black and Hispanic students. My website has accumulated 2,000 views from twenty countries. My crown gave me a microphone and I am not afraid to shout.
I take space as a problem solver, a Miss New York, a queen next door, an advocate, and a future world-changer… who is also Black. Although I cannot change the fact that people will connect my every move to preconceived stereotypes, I can change what I do about it. Everything I do contributes to a goal that is greater than I. I know I stand on the shoulders of giants, and for them, I want mine to be sturdy enough to stand on too.
Word count: 650