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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Freshman defies ‘Asian’ stereotype and walks off his brother’s path

“Are you in calculus yet?”

On the second day of sixth grade, freshman Austin Shi’s older brother’s friends asked him this question.

Staring back at them with a blank face, Austin could not find any words to form an answer.

The reason for the question is that his brother, junior Sean Shi, is well known for his success in national mathematics competitions.

In reality, Austin’s interests lie far from math and science. Instead, he follows a different path and enjoys music, Winter Guard and performing arts.

“I used to feel a lot of pressure from my brother to achieve the same standards, but after a while, I realized I couldn’t,” Austin said. “My parents, however, know the difference between my brother and me.”

According to Sean, their parents strongly encouraged Austin to participate in the Redwood Math Club during sixth and seventh grade, but realized his interests differed in eighth grade and did not ask him to join.

“[Austin] now doesn’t feel obligated to follow my path,” Sean said. “He knows what he wants to do, and I’m pretty sure people get that he is not a math guy, [and that he] wants to pursue band and [Winter] Guard.”

He developed a strong passion for music at age 4 after his father purchased a new stereo system along with a few tracks by Eagles.

“Ever since I was [young,] I started breaking [away from the Asian] stereotype. Math and science [were] fun, but they [were not something I enjoyed] doing in my free time.”

Due to his liking for the stereo, Austin began to act on his love for music by learning how to play the piano a few years later.

He continued his passion for music in seventh grade, when he starred as “Aladdin.” In eighth grade, he also had a lead role, playing Coach Bolton in “High School Musical Jr.”

Due to his success in these musicals, Austin realized that drama was “a place where [he] could be [himself] and continue to discover what [he] really enjoyed.”

In addition to performing in musicals, Austin joined Winter Guard, a step forward on the performing arts path he has chosen to take. Although originally hesitant because Guard attracts few males, he now feels confident in his decision.

“A lot of my friends in band [used to make] fun of me for wanting to do Winter Guard,” Austin said. “However, almost all of the upperclassmen encouraged me to join Winter Guard, so I did. I don’t really care about that stereotype as much now, because around the nation, they have a lot of boys in [Winter Guard] groups.”  

Even though Austin sometimes feels pressure to follow his brother, such as when his brother’s friends assume that he thoroughly enjoys math, he feels that he has made the right choice.

“Now, people view me as that person who loves music, spends time in the band room and is always twirling a piece of Guard equipment,” he said.

By developing his own passions, Austin’s friend, freshman Austin Zheng, said Austin has matured through his unique experiences and differs from many Asian students.

“Having a friend who is able to express himself through music is a different viewpoint,” Zheng said. “It’s really interesting to see how [Austin] reacts to different situations.”

Unlike math, which usually involves one fixed answer, if he plays a note or chord wrong, Austin can freestyle and create new melodies or rhythms that add a unique touch to his music.

According to Austin, music enables him to channel his feelings, “playing [them] into the piano or spinning away,” letting go of all his problems.

Austin’s distinct perspective and experience have led him to believe that stereotypes are often usually false.

“Stereotypes in today’s society are pointless to some extent,” Austin said. “Especially in [Saratoga], people can do what they want to do and they won’t be judged.”

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