Sofia Hirano is like a walking family tree.
The rising junior at the Community Lab School can easily list the names of her ancestors, where they were born, and how they all met — leading right to her.
“My grandmother has this book with our family tree in it,” she said. “I’m part of the 11th generation in the book.”
Sofia starts by telling a story passed down from her grandfather, who was living in Hawaii at the time of the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941. At only six years old, her grandfather and his friends mistook the Japanese flags painted on the sides of the planes as meatballs and started calling them “flying meatballs.”
She then moves to the story of her grandmother, who emigrated from Korea to the U.S. with her husband and three children, Sofia’s mother and two of her uncles. When the children went to school and learned English, Sofia’s grandmother had to bargain with them: Inside the house, they were to speak Korean. But, if they were outside, they were free to speak English.
Sofia says her grandmother explained that this rule was so that she could understand her children and be an active participant in their lives. “She just wanted to be able to understand what her kids were saying about their day,” Sofia said.
It’s these stories that Sofia holds dear that have helped shape her into the person she is today.
“I’m proud of my Asian heritage,” she said. “I love who I am and I have no reason to want to change that.”
Connecting with her family and knowing these stories help her navigate the nuances of modern society, she said. Especially after the violence toward Asian people and Asian Americans in January of 2021.
“I was scared to go outside for a while after that because of the color of my skin,” she said. But she didn’t let that fear stop her.
Instead, she channeled that energy into activism and spoke out against the violence with the Young Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, a group aimed at strengthening the community for young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Charlottesville area.
And her activism is how she is making her own mark on her family tree.
“I’m so glad that I can keep my family’s heritage going,” she said.
For Sofia, life is all about the connections she makes to her family and her community. And as schools begin to reopen in person for the new school year, she can’t wait to start strengthening those connections.
“The community here is just so supportive,” she said. “I just can’t wait to be back in person.”