WHS student honored for her artwork by the New York Times

Wells High School junior Tanya Thakong has received an Honorable Mention in the “Coming of Age in 2021” contest of the New York Times for teenagers. This recognition is for her artwork titled, “Asian’s Fears,” a collage of news headlines and images that highlight racism and hate crimes towards Asians in the era of COVID-19. Her collage also brings attention to the unusual beauty trend that has gained popularity in the last few years known as “Fox Eye”.

In the NYT contest, over 4000 students entered work of varying topics submitted in different forms including writings, photos, drawings, audio, and video to express what it was like being a teenager during the challenging second year of the pandemic.

Thakong indicated that she and some of her friends have experienced racist comments in the past two years while in a city environment. “Since COVID-19 many Asians, including myself, are having a difficult time just because ‘We are Asian..,” noted Thakong in her contest statement. “The Anti-Asian Hate Crime movement is shaping my generation.” Although racism against Asians is not new to America, COVID-19 has increased and complicated this xenophobic issue, in part, due to the unfair association of Asians with where many believe the coronavirus to have originated.

As a result, many Asians and Pacific Islanders living in the U.S. and elsewhere have experienced increasing racism in the form of offensive comments and violence causing fear, isolation, injury, and even death. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, police statistics from around the U.S. indicate that anti-Asian hate crimes increased in the U.S. by 339 percent in 2021.

The centerpiece of Thakong’s work is a striking image of a friend’s face half-covered with the image of a fox with a slanted eye and a pandemic mask. This reflects Thakong’s feelings towards the Fox-Eye beauty fad in which non-Asians attempt to appear Asian by having a minimally-invasive procedure to achieve that look. “It’s unfair for having something like that be used as a beauty trend”, said Thakong who along with many Asians find the trend racially offensive and insensitive to their experiences with racism.

Thakong hopes her artwork illustrates that not all racism is directed towards African Americans but also towards the Asian community. ‘It’s challenging to change the mindset of society in a year or more but in the future, I hope that Asian people don’t have to live in fear anymore,” added Thakong who wishes everyone would treat each other equally regardless of one’s race.

Emily Knight is Tanya’s art teacher at WHS. “It is truly special to witness young artists use their art to communicate with authenticity and conviction,” commented Knight in an email. “It can be difficult and intimidating. When Tanya addressed the "Coming of Age in 2021" contest, she didn't dilute her ideas, she rose to the prompt and used the opportunity as a platform to share her experience. I am glad that the New York Times recognized her efforts and am proud to be able to help her as she continues to create.”

WHS Junior Tanya Thakong

A collage created by WHS student Tanya Thakong