When immigrants arrive in a new country, they bring their most valuable possessions. You might think these possessions are in their bundle of suitcases—but most are found in in their memories. I interviewed six teenage immigrants at Boston International Newcomers Academy: 14-year-old Ibrahima, 13-year-old Ibrahim, 16-year-old Mike, 16-year-old Jefferey, 18-year-old Dabhcar, and 17-year-old Venessa. This is a glimpse into a few memories they shared with me.  
[These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.] 
Where are you from?  
Ibrahima and Ibrahim: We’re originally from Senegal.  
Mike: I’m from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 
Jefferey: I was raised in Manila, Philippines.  
Dabhcar and Venessa: We’re from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 
What do you remember about adjusting to your new surroundings in a new country? 
Mike: The only thing I remember by the time I get here is everything was new. Lights, too many light everywhere! In my country, you have to take bushes and put them on fire and walk with it around for a source of light. It was surprising—tall buildings. The only building back there was the one for the president.  
Venessa: I remember the day I got lost when I was coming to school. I was on the MBTA and I didn’t know the kids in that school as much. And everybody else left the bus and when I looked up, I didn’t know where I was. I thought, “oh my God, I’m lost!” My English wasn't that strong and I was struggling to talk to the bus driver. I didn't know what to do. But in the end, the bus driver helped me get off at my stop.  
What’s your favorite food from home? Do those foods trigger any memories? 
Dabhcar and Venessa: On January 1, which is Independence Day, we visit our whole families and eat “soup joumou.”It’s a tradition we have take part in, and we drink that all day. We also like lalo which are jute leaves, griot, or fried pork, and plantains.  
Ibrahima and Ibrahim: Thiéboudienneis a Senegalese fish and rice dish. Sometimes we eat it with family. 
Mike: Every morning I used to wake up and go hunting to bring food for home. The first time I got a big animal, I shared it with my friends and family because it was really hard to get down and to take home. It was really hard to cut it into pieces to give to each other and to the village people too. 
Tell me something that you will forever remember from your home country that has left an impression on your identity. 
Ibrahim: When I was in school, they got a basketball court one day, and my friends and I played basketball for the first time. They didn't know the rules, because soccer is the most popular sport in Senegal. They just picked up the ball and threw it. I remember this one person, he took the ball for a spin. He grabbed the ball and took ten steps—you’re only supposed to do two or three steps. This kid just grabbed the ball and took off.  
Mike: The one thing I miss is my family back there. Not just my immediate family but the ones I  grew up with. My childhood friends and stuff. Because, from the time I was like 7 to 11, I used to go hunt with them. Animals like deers, and those crazy animals—black panthers. 
Jefferey: I used to always ride motorcycles in Manila. So after school, I would hang out with my friends riding motorcycles. We always hang out in my house, every day! After, we would go to other places on road trips, just seeing the city.  
Venessa:  The way we celebrate Christmas in Haiti is special. On December 21, our families go to church. December 31, everyone goes to church again to pray. For the 25th and January 1, we go to see family. Even if we have gone 365 days without seeing each other, for those days we will see each other no matter what.  
Dabhcar: My favorite memories are full of summer because I enjoyed beautiful moments then. I tried to have fun with my family and sometimes with my church. In the summer, there is a tradition where we go camping for two weeks. That is my favorite memory of Haiti.  
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AFH Photo//Kiara Maher
If you were asked “what is the point of having prisons?” your answer would probably be “to make sure people learn from their mistakes and protect those in danger.” However, this isn’t the ultimate goals of U.S. prisons. Profits seems to be the drive for increased imprisonment, especially considering that most of those incarcerated were detained for drug affiliated crimes, not murder, theft, or rape.   
With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States currently holds more than 2.3 million prisoners; that is more than triple the population of the state of Alaska. The Prison Policy Initiative notes that Black and Latinx make up about 59 percent of these prisoners. Despite the fact that Black people make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population and Latinx about 16 percent, Blacks and Latinx are still America’s top prisoners. 
Ibrahim Dahir, a senior at John D. O’Bryant, said, “the idea that an entire system is set-up against large factions of the population is utterly diabolical. I truly think this is something that should be talked about.” 
The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health outlined that about 17 million whites and 4 million African-Americans used an illegal drug within the past month. Considering the population of both of these groups, black and white people use drugs at similar rates, but black people are six times more likely than white people to be incarcerated for using drugs. The disparity in jail sentencing does not correlate.  
Mandatory minimums are the lowest sentences a defendant can serve for a particular offense. These laws are shown to have an influence on the aforementioned sentencing disparities. For example, in 2010, U.S. News reported that there was a minimum mandatory sentence of five years for a first-time trafficking offender found with only 5 grams of crack cocaine, and five years minimum as well for a suspect found with a 500 grams of powder cocaine. Despite the fact that crack cocaine and powder cocaine are chemically the same, because crack is more commonly used by black people rather than whites, they are faced with a higher risk of incarceration than powder cocaine users. 
The Boston Globe reported that in November 2017, Massachusetts passed new legislation that reduces mandatory minimum sentences and treats 18-year-olds as juvenile. This new policy is one of the first things that must happen to dismantle this system of mass incarceration. But for this issue to be better addressed, other states must also follow these steps.  
Mandatory minimum laws set sentences that are disproportionate to their crimes. Not all crimes have the same severity. It is absurd to imprison someone accused of theft for two minimum years, knowing that all they did was steal food at a gas station. America focuses on penalizing offenders with longer sentences, but long sentencing will not reduce crime.  
Understanding the disparity in incarceration rates is just the beginning. We are unable to control how others perceive us based on our skin color or past mistakes, but what we can do is demand assistance from our government to prevent young people from entering the vicious cycle of incarceration. To better address this issue, reforms need to occur not only with laws but also within prisons and how they are run.  
Mass incarceration shows us more than how active racism still is in this country. Knowledge of a crime is obtained from asking questions, making comparisons, and drawing hypotheses to explain the causes of it. In reality, criminologists do not find the cause of a crime from tangible evidence alone. Criminologists, as any other group of people, have prejudgments, biases, and beliefs that may persist and affect how they approach their work. In fact, they live in a society where all behaviors are racialized.  
Criminal behaviors are often talked about in context of race. When these features become associated with people within a racial group, these misconceptions become the mirror for this group even if these circumstances are not true for all individuals. Sociologist and writer Jeanette Covington, who works at the Department of Sociology at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, affirms that racializing assumptions play a vital role in criminological theories. Criminal behaviors must not be assumed based on societal premises, as they lead to faulty and inaccurate perceptions of other people within that racial community. 
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AFH Photo//Yvonne Chen
In America, Asian-Americans are often known as the “model minority,” or a minority group that has excelled socially and economically beyond broader societal expectations.  
Despite its positive name, this stereotype is a double-edged sword that damages the relation between races. When the broader, predominantly white system names Asian-Americans a model minority, they are denigrating other people of color. Being placed on this pedestal also supplies a sense that all Asian communities are doing equally well. Economist Margaret Simms, a fellow at the Urban Institute, writes that the economic realities for Asian-Americans are actually more complex: “Japanese, Asian Indians, and Chinese—had higher median net worth [than whites], while three others—Filipinos , Vietnamese, and Koreans—had much lower net worth. That represents an enormous gap of 25 to 1 within the Asian community.” 
 Despite these statistics, the differences between Eastern and Southeastern Asians remain blurred in the eyes of dominant society. With the single tick of a box on the SAT, driver’s license registration sheet or any other government official letter, people are all confined under a single label—Asian. A word too narrow to cover the nuances of a population of over 4 billion. 
To the general populous, Asian-Americans are often stereotyped as the epitome of intelligence. But this stereotype hovering over the heads of Asians often results in them receiving less aid from the government, peers and institutions. This is a result from the common perception that they can make it themselves.  
Mimi Nguyen, a senior at the John D. O’Bryant said, “This has made my parents even expect such expectations from me because they have seen other Asians on media become successful, accepting high grades and no failures in school. That is what they believe will get me far in life.” This often places a strain on Asian-American students as they have harsh home environments where they are pushed to reach this expectation to become adequate in the eyes of their parents. 
Kathy Tran, a senior at the John D. O’Bryant, currently amidst the college application process, makes a sharp point: “Ask Ivy League colleges what they think about Asians.” Discrimination towards Asian-Americans is especially prevalent when looking at college admissions. A 2015 lawsuit involving Harvard University has been brought back into the spotlight, as the U.S. justice department has threatened to sue the university “ to force it to turn over documents as it investigates whether the Ivy League school’s admission policies violate civil rights laws,” according to Fortune. According to a 2016 article in the Harvard Crimson, the lawsuit stemmed from the university’s use of racial “quotas” and “racial balancing,” which directly disadvantaged Asian-American applicants. As policies like these have been placed to assist ethnic groups who have been discriminated against, they have sometimes been called “positive discrimination.” However, the Harvard case proves that Asian-Americans have been systematically disadvantaged, as this policy that is supposed to help them is actually causing harm. This feeds into how some Asian groups remain in-need due to this detrimental myth. 
Kristine Din, senior assistant director at the Asian American Center at Northeastern University, also stands against this stereotype. She stated, “This myth stems back to the Civil Rights Era, ironically, and was coined by a white man by the name of William Peterson who wrote an article using specifically Japanese-Americans as transcending difficulties to become ‘successful,’ and he used this argument as a leverage to say ‘why couldn’t the other communities of color [African-Americans] do it?’”  
As noted here, this stereotype is not only detrimental to Asian-Americans, but it results in animosity amongst the other minority groups as it serves as a racial wedge, and reestablishes racial hierarchy, which prevents us from coalescing into a unified group. Until we acknowledge the fact that this status is false, we will be limited by our labels.  
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AFH Photo//Mary Nguyen
Let’s talk girl code. I’m not talking about the rules which stipulate you can’t date your best friends ex-boyfriend. I’m talking about the myriad of rules women have to follow to navigate a world where sexual violence is omnipresent. The pandemic of sexual harassment is not a matter of political affiliation, race or ZIP code. This is a problem women are susceptible to no matter who or where they are. 
According to an ABC News-Washington Post news poll released in October, 54 percent of women experience “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances at some point in their lives.” This phenomenon was finally brought to light at the end of last year with the #MeToo social media campaign, which surfaced after prominent Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually abusing over 50 women. Women took to Facebook and Twitter to demonstrate solidarity with Weinstein’s victims and to accuse their own abusers.  
One thing that #MeToo demonstrated was that it’s not just powerful, famous women who face abuse—women of all walks of life have sustained unwanted sexual advances. Helleitte, a 16-year-old student at Roxbury Prep High School [whose first and last name have been withheld for privacy], has experienced this firsthand. She recalls an incident where she was playing at a park with her friends when two boys kept touching her inappropriately. She told them to stop as it made her uncomfortable. However, the boys persisted, and one boy went as far (as Donald Trump described in the famous Access Hollywood tape) as “grabbing her by the [explicit].”  
When incidents like this happen to more than half of all American women, the problem becomes too big to ignore. Women are actively avoiding sexual harassment by changing the way they dress or taking different walking routes to work. It’s their way of doing something about it when no one else will. 
“Well, it’s a good weekend to stay inside since it’s 20 degrees out and everyone you’ve ever heard of is a sex monster,” said comedian Colin Jost in an SNL sketch addressing the string of sexual harassment allegations against prominent male celebrities. While the humorous tone makes the pill a little bit easier to swallow, it confirms what women have known all along: men are creeps.  
However, those creeps have the ability to determine whether women will keep their jobs or be promoted. The ABC News-Washington Post poll also revealed that of the 54 percent of women who experience unwanted sexual advances, 23 percent suffered sexual harassment at the hands of men who had influence over their work situation.  
If we want to mitigate the scope of this problem, we have to stop normalizing sexual assault. According the poll, of those women who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, 95 percent said male harassers usually go unpunished. Just because it happens more often than people would like to talk about, it doesn’t mean we should accept it as a normal. 
Today’s society is unequipped to handle accusations of sexual assault because men aren’t going to face consequences from a system that benefits them. If we ever want to solve this problem, we need to hold all men accountable for their actions. We can’t selectively pick and choose which men to punish according to their prominence. There is no in-between when it comes to sexual harassment. The reason why the #MeToo campaign has been powerful isn’t because women are finally telling their stories—it’s because men are finally starting to listen.  
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AFH Photo//Vanessa Vo
The disturbing symphony of voices fills your ears, making you flinch. As you look around, the source of the obnoxious sound becomes clear: the other students at your table in the school cafeteria. However, even the annoying voices and your uncomfortable seat cannot ruin this moment.  
In front of you is food you’ve been craving. Your mouth starts to water just looking at it. The food stares at you, pleading you to take a bite. You cannot take the suspense so you start to DIG RIGHT IN. You open your mouth dentist-wide. As you start to take the first bite of your scrumptious food, someone comments, “Ewww why are you eating that? That’s gross.”  
Immediately your craving is gone. Your favorite food turns into cardboard.  
Welcome to Food Court, where other people judge you based on what you eat. Some students, like John D. O’Bryant senior Wanjing Li, have been to Food Court. “One night, my mom made me tù ròu hé báifàn, or rabbit meat and rice,” Li said. “So the next day I brought it to school. This girl saw it and asked me what it was. She was like, ’Eww, rabbit? Gross.’ It kind of hurt when she said it was gross, since in China it is normal.”  
“A lot of people judge me when I put ketchup in my rice or on my chicken,” said  Mangeney Omar, a senior at John D. O’Bryant. “There is one particular person that always talks to me about how gross and weird it is. I feel like she only associates me with my food choice.”  
“When I go to McDonald’s, I buy a burger then ask the cashier for all their chicken nugget sauces and put all of it on the McDouble,” said John D. O’Bryant senior Sonia Baez. Baez went on to talk about how people usually judge her for this. However, she does not mind. “I am the one eating it, so why should I care?” Baez said.  
Baez makes an important point. You are eating it, not the person judging you. To those who are being judged based on food preference, know that you are NOT what you eat. What you enjoy consuming has nothing to do with who you are as a person. Hence, that pizza with ranch dressing you had for lunch yesterday does not represent YOU, just your taste in food. So next time someone says that what you’re eating is “gross,” just tell them,“Don’t knock it till you try it.” 
If you see someone eat something that you think is weird, answer these questions before you comment: Have you tried it before? Do you think the person will be offended by what you are about to say? Are YOU eating it? If you answered “no” or “I’m not sure” to any of those questions then you may not want to say it. Refer to the following from writer Rachel Wolchin: “Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you may stick with someone else for a lifetime.”  
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