Cecilia Lam says she realizes that her Chinese heritage triggers certain expectations from others.
She knows that teachers, particularly in elementary and junior high school, expect that she will be a good student. Schoolmates are surprised when Lam gets a low grade on a test, and her parents urge her to put aside other activities to concentrate on school, reminding her that they had limited opportunities for education in their native China.
But as much as 17-year-old Lam, a junior honors student at Huntington Beach High School, wants to be seen for more than her race, she said, she also doesn't "want to be the only Asian who doesn't do well in school."
The fact is, Lam says, she has the same goals for herself.
"I want to get good grades, go to a good college and get a good job," Lam said. "I want a good life."
The daughter of jeweler with a sixth-grade education and a homemaker who finished eighth grade, Lam wants to be a pediatrician.
"Things are easier for me than they were for my parents," Lam said. "My dad had to leave school to help provide for the family."
To achieve anything less than a successful career would be a waste of the opportunities offered her, Lam said.
"When I have to practice piano, sometimes I'll complain," Lam said. "But my mom says I shouldn't complain because she never had the opportunity to take lessons when she was a girl."
Like many teen-agers, Lam chafes under her parents' authority.
"My parents always want to know more about my friends and where we are going than other parents," Lam said.
But she also understands their position, pointing out that the society she is growing up in is vastly different from the one in which her parents were raised.
"It is a little scary for them. They would like me to have more friends with similar backgrounds," Lam said.
One place both Lam and her parents feel comfortable is church, the Chinese Baptist Church of Orange County. The church provides social activities for youths as well as Chinese language and culture classes, which Lam has attended for 12 years.
Lam is a youth leader at the church, which involves leading a monthly Bible study and participating in church council discussions.
"She is a real go-getter," said Mark Ingram, the church's youth minister. "Her group really looks up to her."
Lam said she is more comfortable with the other youths at her church, all of whom are Chinese, than her friends at school. But she attributes that more to the length of their friendship than their shared culture.
"I'm open to any person," Lam said. "I want to make friends with people regardless of race."
After graduation, Lam said, she tentatively plans to attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where, some have warned her, she might be one of just a few Asian students.
"It wouldn't bother me if I was the only Asian student there," Lam said. "I would get noticed, and I like to stand out in a crowd."