Student voices: What does living in east St. Paul mean to you?

Josalyza Thao
Peevxwm Yang
Sarah Wolters
Hlee Yang

Editor’s note: What does living on the east side of St. Paul mean to you? ThreeSixty asked several members of the student council at Johnson High School to share snapshots of their life so readers could see the neighborhood they know and appreciate—through their eyes. Here’s how they responded:

“I hear from people who don’t know about the east side and they’ll say, ‘Oooh, they like to fight’ or ‘Look at her, she thinks she’s bad!’ That’s what people think about us, like we always have a bad attitude or everyone wants to get in your face all the time.

“There’s stuff here that’s real, I mean, crimes do happen. But there are really good parts to the east side, too. I think you can connect more with people here and become more open with your opinions because you see everything. I just feel like I have a completely different perspective of other people and the reasons they do certain things or say certain things.”

— Josalyza Thao, 16, junior

“Being here has made me look at cultures differently. Because everyone came from a different background to come to America. Except in the classroom, we learn about white people or Europeans coming here for religious freedom, so we already have their backstory. But written underneath, or maybe between the lines—to know where other people come from, that hidden history for like, the Chinese or the Hmong—no one really looks at that. But here, you have all this diversity around you, so you can ask questions of each other and re-educate each other. Then you’ll see how similar their journey was and you can relate to them because it’s just like your ancestors or your father or grandparents.”

— Peevxwm Yang, 17, junior

“If I were from someplace else, a suburb, I definitely wouldn’t know about the Hmong culture as much as I do. All throughout my schooling on the east side, I’ve always been with people of different cultures. I think it prepares me for the real world. I’d like to go into international business for a career, so I think it really helps to be aware of other cultures, or the fact that not everyone does things the same way, not everyone celebrates the same holidays, that sort of thing. Being an eastsider makes you more aware of those differences and not to expect the same thing from everybody.”

— Sarah Wolters, 17, senior

“One thing I really appreciate about this side of town is the dancing. Not just for my race, but for a lot of other races. It’s a really big thing that bonds people together and it’s had a big impact on my life. I see it as this really great way for everyone on the east side to know each other, and though I haven’t really gone anywhere else, it seems like something only we’re into and get to do. It’s not just Hmong, but Chinese too, or some people do hip hop, some Korean, Indian and Thai. Everything.

“I also think the east side is a competitive place. It makes you become more determined to work hard and be more together. Even from a dancing point of view, when we fail or don’t win a competition, it just makes us want to be that much better.”

— Hlee Yang, 17, senior


Nichelle Heu, a Harding HS senior, explores how much her much-maligned neighborhood in east St. Paul has shaped her background yet fuels a desire to get out. Click here to read the essay.