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Reading through a Lens

As an extremely privileged Asian-American living in a sheltered community, when reading We Were Here by Matt de la Peña, my identity greatly influenced the way I perceived the story and its characters. Since I am an Asian-American in a fortunate household, I was able to empathize with Mong’s situation before his fall. However, also because of my privilege, I was shocked at the conditions that Miguel and Rondell had to endure and was unable to relate to their experiences. My identity is a lens through which I read; it makes me relate to certain parts of a story while making me completely ignorant of other parts.

Because of my identity, I have a unique perspective on parts of the story. First, when reading Mong’s file, his situation before his parents’ death resonated with me. His father came to America for higher education in a reputable university and later permanently settled down in California; similarly, my parents immigrated to America for their professional degrees and settled down in Connecticut. Like me, Mong tried his best at school and did well academically. However, his life spiraled out of control when his father killed his mother and himself and tried to kill him. Along with his illness, that incident led to self-destructive behavior and an indifferent attitude towards life, which led to his destruction. When reading this, because of my identity as a privileged Asian-American, I realized that up until Mong was about my age, his life was exceptionally similar to mine and that one incident changed his life drastically. My privilege has made me relate to Mong’s story, yet it has also rendered me incapable of connecting with Miguel’s experiences. Since I live in a community where I have not personally experienced racism, I was taken aback when I read the experience that Miguel, Rondell, and Mong had with the racist shopkeeper. I also have never experienced starvation as Miguel and Rondell did after being betrayed by Flaca or been in any physical fights with anyone.

All in all, aspects of my identity have undoubtedly changed the way I perceived the book. I immediately understood Mong’s past before the incident because it was similar to mine. When reading about Miguel’s life on the streets, despite my best efforts, it was challenging for me to empathize with his situation, never experiencing anything close to it in my life. The disparity between people of a lower socioeconomic status and people of a higher socioeconomic status, as shown in my inability to connect meaningfully with Miguel in certain areas, reflects American society as a whole and its inherent heaping amount of inequality. However, through reading, I have gotten to know his situation more and appreciate how unpredictable life is so that I can adapt to its changes better.


de la Pena, Matt. We Were Here. Random House, 2009.