Jun 26, 2019

We were lucky enough to host Priya Vulchi and Winona Guo of CHOOSE not once, but twice on our San Mateo campus. They first stopped by the GoPro headquarters in 2017 during the cross-country journey that would fuel their book: Tell Me Who You Are. Just this week, following the publication of their book, which is the culmination of their travels, they came back to share what they learned about racial literacy.

Priya and Winona share in their own words below:

We’re two teens who traveled to all 50 states with the mission of equipping every American with racial and intersectional literacy. Ever since we picked up our two GoPro cameras in New Mexico, we’ve been strapping them to our heads, wrists, backpacks, and, once, even a propeller plane to document our journey.

The student-led organization we co-founded, CHOOSE, is all about sharing personal stories about race and intersectionality—and GoPro equipped us with the lenses through which to do that.

We have over 500 stories from people all over the U.S., and around 115 of those have been handpicked, then paired to systematic research, to be featured in our new book Tell Me Who You Are (TargerPerigee/Penguin Random House).

The stories include a Hmong author in Minneapolis who contributes “to write her people into existence,” and a Kurdish author in North Dakota who writes because his “huge nation of people doesn’t have a home, other than on my pages.” A gay black man in Virginia told us how he left his queer community because it didn’t accept his blackness, and a gay Chinese woman in Florida told us how she was kicked out of her home at age 15 because her Chinese community didn’t accept her queerness.

In Utah, we interviewed a Latina woman who said that her race and gender furthers others’ perceptions of her mental illness or, as she calls it, her “hysteria and insanity.” In Charlottesville, Heather Heyer’s mom grieved for hours while we interviewed her because of her daughter’s death by white supremacists. At least a dozen people told us, separately, that they knew a race war was coming.  

Our heads spin and our hearts hurt when we think about the stories we have heard. Many are tragic. Yet, many are hopeful. They prove that talking about race is hard, especially when you do it with strangers—which we did.

In all 50 states, we tapped random people on the shoulder, asked them to share their experiences with us, hit record and often listened for hours. It was nerve-wracking doing this on our own, but it was relieving to have our trusty sidekicks—our GoPros—capturing behind-the-scenes footage the entire time.

Sometimes, we were not-so-discreet with our GoPros. They were on our heads almost every minute we weren’t interviewing (even during speaking engagements!) In the chaos of travel, we used GoPro to capture the personal side of our journey to all 50 states.

We documented our trip because we think it’s valuable to show how two teens of color—who are straight out of high school, who are girls, and who had to raise all the money to do this trip on their own—can actually have some mobility and power in this world.

We documented it also because we understood our privileges better, too. For example, how being able-bodied and growing up with access to educational resources literally enabled us traveling 24/7 in the first place.

These behind-the-scenes insights are shared in Tell Me Who You Are, which NY Times best-selling author Roxane Gay called "at once hopeful, raw, and brimming with curiosity, engagement and youthful energy."

So, what are we doing right now? We just finished our respective first-years of college at Harvard and Princeton University, we are the youngest TED Residents ever, and we are working to make Tell Me Who You Are equip every American with racial and intersectional literacy.

Our team includes a professional “spice hunter,” a transportation entrepreneur, educators, movie directors, lawyers and app developers—proving that racial literacy, understanding fundamentally how to live among all of this country’s diversity, can and will benefit EVERYONE.

If you’re serious about your own racial literacy or if you care about building bridges across our racially-divided world, we hope you pick up a copy of Tell Me Who You Are, share it with your friends, and join this movement. You can find us on social media @choose_org!