An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Roman O. ’22, Lillian L. ’22, and Eric H. ’20

After the performance by educator and actor Steven Tejada, Upper School English teacher Amy Kaz asked her students to write a quick in-class response to the assembly. Here are just a few of their reflections.

Roman O. ’22

“The question I asked [Tejada during the Q&A] … was somewhere along the lines of: “you [mentioned you] were uncomfortable out of the Bronx; were you also uncomfortable in the Bronx since you were the only one that left?”…I asked because I feel like we’re the same.

[One] thing I’ve had to go through during this big transition [to Lakeside] is feeling like I’m never really comfortable. First of all, some argue with me and tell me that I shouldn’t be transitioning anymore because I’ve already been in high school for one semester. But one semester does not really erase the past ten years. I always felt really comfortable with those from my old school, probably like how Steven felt in the Bronx. The way he described never having to try to be ‘Bronx’ was kinda how I felt, but then I left and now I go to Lakeside and whenever I see my old friends I feel less and less comfortable. I love them…but they are the same type of friends as the main character’s, their lives keep going and they don’t welcome me back everytime with a sign or something. I grew up the same as them and yet I’m here so it’s difficult finding a place to belong...

“[In thinking more,] even though I found the speaker really interesting and the story very moving, I wish the speaker for the MLK assembly had been Black.”

Lillian L. ’22

“I thought Mr. Tejada’s performance was exceptionally powerful because it highlighted the importance of remembering your roots and also demonstrated the harm of using generalizations to define a whole group of people…. Unlike many others who were eager to leave the Bronx…the main character [in the performance] was sort of torn between starting a new identity or still identifying with the Bronx and his friends/family there.

“It was even more complicated because as he moves to a new place, he carries that past and reputation with him which causes people there to view him as a threat. It really struck me that when Mr. Tejada moved the new [private] school, people viewed him as dangerous and a criminal who was in a gang. None of them took the time out of their day to really learn to understand him and realize that his neighborhood didn’t define him as a person. In our society I think that many people are quick to judge others by a simple rumor or by appearance without getting to know them first. I am also guilty of this, as when I heard that Mr. Tejada was from the Bronx, I actually assumed that he was a tough guy and didn’t ever think that he was an actor or a writer. I really admire his way of storytelling because it launches you into the moment and you really see what the people there are truly like.”

Eric H. ’20

“There was a lot to take in from Mr. Tejada’s performance, but the thing that struck me the most was the idea of where ‘home’ is. No matter where you go or what you do, for some people, they will always feel like they are just ‘a kid from somewhere.’ At first, I thought that always having that connection was a bad thing – what if you wanted to escape your past and start anew? It would be bothersome to be chained to an identity that you don’t identify with. In addition, that kind of thinking can give rise to a feeling of not belonging anywhere: people in your new environment see you as different because of where you came from, but people in your old environment no longer accept you because of where you go.

“As a second generation Asian American, I found myself relating to that feeling of not belonging – when I visit family in China, people can tell that I am not from the area, but when I am in the United States, my skin color makes me stand out in the population. However, after I thought about it some more, I decided that always being from ‘somewhere’ isn’t so bad after you come to accept your identity and embrace it. There are some things in life that are unchangeable, and your origins is one of them. No matter how hard you try to hide it, people will know, and that’s okay. In addition, the connection that you will always have with wherever you grew up can help people who have found success elsewhere find the inspiration to return to help other people reach the same place they have reached. That positive cycle of giving back and helping other people climb the ladder behind you is how traditionally underprivileged communities can change their fortunes in a big way.

“Another thing that I really liked about his performance was his use of theater as a medium to convey information. Although it seems counterintuitive, creating a ‘fake’ character by combining the experiences of real people feels more personal and easier to connect to than simply relaying numbers, such as unemployment rates and average test scores. People gravitate towards the stories of other individuals, and by presenting the information in the form of a monologue, Tejada is able to bring more attention to the issue and get help for the people who need it. In addition, Tejada’s story of starting theater was fascinating. He said that since he wanted to appear ‘less scary,’ since people knew he was from a bad neighborhood and he had a bunch of bruises on his face, he decided to take up a hobby that was seen as more intellectual and ‘high end.’ He wanted to escape the stereotype of being an athlete – he played basketball and football – and a rough and tumble, hood-raised person of color. Theater was the perfect medium for him to tell his story and spread his message to as many people as possible.”