A Close Bond Sheds Light on Race Relations High school seniors Amanda Fernandez and Sarah Luzietti have been close friends since ninth grade. Their interracial friendship extends beyond the walls of their school, but they say the world does not always embrace them.
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A Close Bond Sheds Light on Race Relations

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A Close Bond Sheds Light on Race Relations

A Close Bond Sheds Light on Race Relations

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: As part of our series, Generation Next, we're listening to the voices of young people across the country.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SARAH LUZIETTI (Aspiring singer): (Singing in foreign language)

MONTAGNE: Sarah is 17 years old and hopes to be a professional singer. Her best friend, Amanda, is training to be an actress.

(Soundbite of play)

Ms. AMANDA FERNANDEZ (Aspiring Actress): (Unintelligible) just as you're a senile (unintelligible) that the gods love to honor bad men?

Unidentified Group: No.


MONTAGNE: That's Amanda, performing in the play “Antigone” at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., where both she and Sarah are seniors.

Guest correspondent Judy Woodruff has their story. It's about friendship, art and race.

(Soundbite of students' recital)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amanda Fernandez and Sarah Luzietti just got out of AP English and are making some quick plans for the weekend.

Ms. LUZIETTI: I figured. Well, you're coming to my house this weekend, right so?

Ms. FERNANDEZ: This weekend?

Ms. LUZIETTI: Can you? Because my mom's going to the beach.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: I'll call you. Because my work's, like, nine to five, I can work in shifts.

WOODRUFF: Amanda met Sarah three years ago at Duke Ellington, when they were both in the ninth grade.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: And she always be under a tree by herself with all of her bags. She'd just be listening to her music. And I walked over, and I looked at her CD case and the music there was so diverse - like I never knew that white people listened to jazz. I knew that white people listened to jazz, but I didn't know that kids my age could appreciate the original black music. She was listening to Ella and she had Miles in there. It was just like, wow, there's something different about her.

WOODRUFF: A difference that felt familiar. It turns out that the girls had a lot in common: both from New York, both passionate about the arts, both their parents split up when they were younger. And to them, all of that seems more important than the fact that Amanda is black and lives in the inner city, and Sarah is white and lives in the suburbs.

Ms. LUZIETTI: Honestly, I think adults make more of a stink about race than kids do. I've known Amanda too long to feel like I have to walk on eggshells with her. And I, pretty much on the issues of racial equality, I think that we pretty much agree. I feel like that I can talk to Amanda about anything.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: I mean, it's always been a question in the back of my mind if Sarah can really understand, where I come from as a black person. Will she ever - we're different. But that's not something that gets in the way.

WOODRUFF: Today's young people are said to embrace diversity - a phrase that is so common it's almost a cliché. Children grow up with Martin Luther King Day and Hispanic heritage month, with black and Latino and Asian celebrities on TV. But Amanda Fernandez says none of that helped her embrace her own heritage, which is part Cuban, part African-American. It was the arts - acting, writing, singing - she says, that taught her to love where she came from.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: When I was younger, I always wanted to be white. I always wanted a straighter hair and a lighter skin because they got everything. Now, I see it as an advantage that I've been blessed with a wonderfully crazy Cuban family. I have a wonderfully, crazy black family, who talks about the man all the time. And how it's a conspiracy. I think it's amazing to have this cultural experience in my life. I'll never want to change who I am.

WOODRUFF: I want to turn to your friendship and, sort of, living or visiting each other's world, if you will.

Ms. LUZIETTI: Actually, Amanda and I - we joked around all the time. We say we're constantly living at each other's houses, and it's so true.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: Her house is - her house is my house. Her house is comfortable. Her parents are comfortable, and it's the same when Sarah comes to my house.

WOODRUFF: This is what the girls say is unusual about their friendship. Sure, at Duke Ellington and other schools, you'll see kids of different races working and socializing together. But Amanda and Sarah take their friendship out into the world. And the world, they say, does not always embrace them.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: I understand that our neighborhoods are different.

WOODRUFF: Like where are we talking about?

Ms. FERNANDEZ: I live in southeast. It's the same southeast where people get shot a lot. It's the same southeast where there are crack houses. It's that southeast.

Ms. LUZIETTI And I would also say that in Amanda's neighborhood, I know every second that I'm there, that I'm white. Every second.

WOODRUFF: How do you know? What makes them happy?

Ms. LUZIETTI: Oh my, Margarita on the Metro. Okay, actually at the moment, you know, I'm dating a guy, who is black and he was one stop away from her. And every white person on the train got off at La Font(ph) Plaza -

Ms. FERNANDEZ: Uh-hmm.

Ms. LUZIETTI: …like no more white people. I'm sitting on the train, and I swear I had 10 people staring at me like, sweetheart, have you missed your stop? You know, and I did feel for just a second what it might feel like to be the minority. But even so, no way do I feel that that makes me some, sort of, authority on how that feels, really feels.

WOODRUFF: Then Sarah tells a story that underscores what she said earlier, that adults tend to make a bigger stink about race than kids.

Ms. LUZIETTI: A police officer asked me - I was with my boyfriend - and he asked me if, you know, everything was okay. He was like, is everything consensual there? And I looked I him - literally, I looked at him and I was like, I think - are you joking?

WOODRUFF: He was white or black?

Ms. LUZIETTI: Oh, white. I just looked at him and I said, yes, officer. Absolutely.

WOODRUFF: Do you both think things are going to be like this when you are your parent's age in this country?

Ms. LUZIETTI: I hope not.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: I think so. I think it's going to get better. I think it's going to get better. But as far as in the next 30 years, it's going to be the same. Same issues.

WOODRUFF: And then I ask Amanda about an issue she's already facing - as a young actress competing for jobs, and as a student applying to college.

Because this is a complaint that some people make nowadays that some minorities are being given an advantage because of past grievances. And some people are saying that there shouldn't be any affirmative action. Do you feel you've ever been given any advantage?

Ms. FERNANDEZ: All the time.

WOODRUFF: Because you're a minority.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: All the time. I'm black with a Spanish last name. How rare is that? Oh, let's look at her tape again. You know, it's horrible. It's horrible when a person says, well, maybe you got it just because you were black and you didn't deserve it. And it hurts.

WOODRUFF: Well, does that cause any doubts in your mind that you've got the talent?

Ms. FERNANDEZ: Not at all. I don't ever doubt that I'm talented. I don't ever doubt that I'm good enough to get the part whether I'm white or black or man or whatever. I think that if a person chose me because of my race, that's their issue.

WOODRUFF: How do you know that you were chosen, in some instances, because you're (unintelligible)?

Ms. FERNANDEZ: I don't know. I'm aware of it. Let me put it this way. I think affirmative action and all of these privileges that minorities are getting - we should. Unfortunately, I enjoy that sometimes a college will look at me twice because I'm black, only because it's about time in American society - in America's history - that they look at us twice.

So, yeah. It's wrong. It steps on other people's toes, but before, I wouldn't have even had an opportunity to learn how to read. I wouldn't have been able to apply.

WOODRUFF: And Sarah, let me ask you to react to what we just heard Amanda say -it's about time.

Ms. LUZIETTI: The way I look at it is - especially in the business of art, people, white people alike, use any advantage they have to get where they want to go. If I were an African-American, I would say, it's competitive enough getting into college. If that can help me, great. It's a good thing.

WOODRUFF: Both Sarah and Amanda are applying to Juilliard in New York City for next year - Amanda in theater, Sarah in music. Maybe they'll both get in, or maybe not. But either way, they say their friendship will not fade away after high school.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: It's because she's honestly just contained so many qualities that I never had in a real friend.

Ms. LUZIETTI: I would love to be, like, 35 and calling up Amanda and then saying, oh, let's go to dinner, because we both live in New York. Or like, Amanda can be my bridesmaid, or because…

Ms. FERNANDEZ: Absolutely.

Ms. LUZIETTI: And she's somebody who I really could see being a part of my life for the rest of my life.

WOODRUFF: Sarah Luzietti and Amanda Fernandez are seniors at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.

For NPR News, I'm Judy Woodruff.

MONTAGNE: You can hear more stories in the Generation Next series at npr.org. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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