All throughout my life, I attended schools in North Philadelphia.
I grew up in the city’s Olney section, which is closer to Cheltenham than it is to Center City, and attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls before coming to Temple University.
But the North Philadelphia that I currently live in, the one I witness from the window of my off-campus apartment, is a different North Philadelphia than the one I grew up in.
Not only did I grow up in a different area of North Philadelphia geographically, but the lifestyle of my community was different. It was more residential, less congested and cleaner than the area surrounding Temple.
I grew up in a North Philadelphia where children happily played outside and families lounged on their porches to feel the breeze. Although the people, my family included, were not financially well off, we joined together to throw neighborhood block parties and schedule routine days to clean the streets. In my North Philadelphia, I saw friendly interaction.
Where I live now, I don’t see young children playing outside with each other. I don’t see happy families on their porches, and I don’t see many block parties. I definitely don’t see neighborly interactions, especially among college students.
My high school peers at the Philadelphia High School for Girls attended colleges like Penn State and Villanova University outside of the city, or schools like Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania in wealthier areas of Philadelphia, and in comparison, I felt ashamed of going to Temple. Additionally, my family couldn’t afford for me to live in a residence hall on campus, so I felt disconnected from college life.
I felt outcast because of my race, as well. All of my previous schools had been predominantly African American, Latinx and Asian-American. Before I set foot on Temple’s campus, I had never had a full conversation with a white person.
This unfamiliarity made my “getting used to college” phase extend for a long time. I was the only Asian person in my freshman orientation group and my classroom demographics were the same. As a film major, I felt completely excluded from other students because of my race. I felt intimidated, scared and alone. I couldn’t make friends in the first two years college because I felt like I was the different one, I was the other.
At this time, my college experience didn’t seem so worthwhile.
Because of my differences, I felt like I didn’t have the autonomy to stand up for myself and for my community, which was and is disrespected by other Temple students.
Many Temple student consider themselves “Philadelphians” or “city people at heart,” but reflect ignorance in their actions.
I never cease to be disappointed by the amount of trash students leave outside after parties and warm evenings out. When I remind people to clean up after themselves and have been faced with the response, students often blame their mess on local North Philadelphia residents.
Being from a low-income family and from this area — which has just now, over a course of nearly two decades, started improving — I feel enraged and disappointed when students do not care about this city.
My college ride is a lot smoother now.
I don’t feel like an outsider anymore, but I do feel responsible for educating my peers at Temple to treat North Philadelphia with respect. I make sure my new friends and loved ones are aware of the true culture, and full picture, of North Philadelphia and to try to eliminate the stereotypes and negativity about the people here.
I know how to interact with both sides of the community and have gained the courage to stand up for my city.