Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month: Julian Villarta’s Journey to Success


Photo by: Hailey Tesser

Rebekah Barrera, Arts & Entertainment Editor

   If Asians make up a majority of the globe’s population, why are they so misunderstood?

   There are over 24 million Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the U.S., each with their own story. This AAPI Heritage Month, we choose to celebrate every single one of those stories, how they’ve shaped America’s past, and how they’ll continue to take charge in the future.

   Of the many life-changing experiences that exist across these millions of individual timelines, high school happens to be one of the first places where the adventures of growing up clash with cultural norms. While we’re put through test after test to figure out our true identities, sometimes having to learn the hard way, one thing has always and will always remain true: the AAPI community is both diverse and united, a mosaic made up of beautiful cultures and beautiful people. 

   For senior Julian Villarta, who’s had his fair share of ups and downs in the past four years, this May definitely feels like a full circle moment–not only does he get to cross the finish line of high school, but he also honors his Filipino heritage that helped him get there!

   Julian’s story begins on May 6, 2004, when he was born in South Florida to two loving parents who immigrated from the Philippines. Since day 1, Julian has always been in touch with his Filipino roots, calling his parents “Ama” and “Ina” (father and mother, respectively, in the Filipino dialect of Pangalatok) and eating rice with every single meal he had (as rice is considered a staple food in Filipino cuisine). As with most young children, Julian didn’t have much to worry about in his early days.

   However, as Julian grew older, he quickly learned that his life as an Asian-American wasn’t as easy as others’. When he got to elementary school, he suddenly had to face his parents’ high expectations to be nothing less than a perfect student. Of course, there were only good intentions behind this; his parents simply wanted him to take advantage of the educational opportunities they didn’t have back in the Philippines. Nonetheless, Julian still carried the weight on his shoulders. “In retrospect, I feel like the only reason I wanted to do well was to please my parents,” he admits. “If I did bad on a test, my first thought wasn’t what could I have done better or what can I learn from this, it was how would my parents react.” The lines between who Julian was and who his parents wanted him to be were continuously blurred, and he carried that sense of fear with him throughout middle school as well.

   When it came to high school, Julian thought the pressure would only get worse as there were much more people to be compared to and more opportunities to take advantage of. But through seeing this coexistence of hundreds of students with their own separate lives, he actually had his own epiphany: “Everyone works at a different pace and everyone is going to be at a different stage in their lives at the same time.” While he “remember[ed] [his] parents comparing [him] to other kids, how they’re faster in swimming or how they have a higher SAT score,” Julian started taking this lightly, instead setting his own goals to ease the stress.

   This also meant dispelling any racist or stereotypical comments that Asians usually get, especially how they’re ‘supposed to get the highest scores, and if they actually did do well on a test, it was only because of their race, nothing more. Ironically, the reality is that Julian was able to achieve success from the diligence he developed as a result of parental pressure. “The work ethic and self-motivation I have for school is because of them,” he explains. With this dedication, Julian was able to complete four years of high school that lived up to his standards.

   As Julian graduates next month, he leaves PPCHS, and especially Charter’s AAPI community, with one final piece of advice: “You and another person might end up in the same exact place but you might not take the same exact steps to get there. I think it’s important to remind yourself of that and … it’s important to create your own definition for success.” For Julian, this meant being able to set his own goals without letting anyone interfere. With this mindset, he was able to reach his class’s top 5%, become the school’s swim team Captain, and be selected as first chair flute in band. He continues to express pride in his culture, having recently cooked Filipino-style chicken adobo for Culinary Club and reciting a poem by a Filipino author for the Pines Charter NEHS Poetry Out Loud Competition.

   Throughout it all, Julian recognizes that his heritage doesn’t define him, but he always remembers that it shaped who he is today.