A Chaotic Childhood: My Journey to the United Nations Youth Assembly
Post by Xizi Luo ’18
“If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”
– Chinese proverb quoted by Monique Coleman (United Nations Youth Champion for the International Year of Youth [2010-2011] and “High School Musical” Actress) at the Closing Keynote Speech of the Winter 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I am a kindergartner at Public School 205 in Brooklyn, New York. I am sitting on the carpet of my classroom with my legs crossed, listening to my teacher read from a picture book. Upon hearing noises from the hallway, I turn and see the parents of my classmates enter to pick up their children. My mother arrives to take me home as well. Upon entering our apartment living room, I notice the fine layer of dust that had accumulated on the furniture. My mother turns on the T.V. I watch the images on the screen as my mother replies to my grandmother’s worried missed calls. In the afternoon, my father commutes home by foot from Manhattan where he saw the South Tower fall. From that September day forth until my family left New York in 2005, the skyline of Manhattan had a strange emptiness to it.
I am no stranger to chaos. Even as a bystander, my life has been carved by the knife of displacement, upheaval, and instability that has cut at times both sharp and deep. I was born in Chongqing, China where the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers meet amidst sprawling metropolis and lush mountains. By the time I returned to Chongqing in 2007 for the first time after I emigrated at the age of four, the mountain that was my backyard playground had been crisscrossed by highway roads. My parents gave birth to my little sister in post-9/11 New York and they now live in Toronto, Canada. Even Toronto, dubbed “Condo City”, has not been left intact by upheaval. During the nine years I had lived in Toronto during my preteen to teenage years, Toronto’s population has skyrocketed. Toronto has transformed into a cosmopolitan metropolis with all the associations of urban life attached— the most dramatic being air pollution and the disappearance of small businesses. The only constant event in life is change. I have witnessed sociopolitical, environmental, and economic changes that have caused the destruction of life and livelihoods.
Is it possible to shock systems we think unjust, negotiate power struggles, and demand that silenced voices be heard without resorting to terrorism? Is there an alternative to an economic growth model that concentrates wealth at the hands of the few and disregards human rights and resource limits? What brings me to an international organization that promotes peace is neither ideology nor pity. I arrived at the United Nations with firsthand testimony. My recent childhood spanning three countries has shown me, from a civilian perspective, the vital dualism of sustainable development and security. My childhood raised among chaos forces me to imagine a future world with greater stability.
I attended the Winter 2016 Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from February 16th to February 18th. As a Youth Assembly Delegate, I listened to keynote speakers ranging from senior UN staff to ambassadors and members of the for-profit and non-profit sector. I asked questions during panels and attended workshops dedicated to empowering youth in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. A moment of particular significance stood out when I visited the gallery of peacekeeping missions during my guided tour of the headquarters. Upon seeing a blue beret behind a glass cabinet, my memory was triggered to when I visited Rwanda last summer with the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership. Within the span of a year, I found myself from a genocide memorial center commemorating one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century to the very halls of the international organization that attempted at intervention. The magnitude of the UN’s work and the power of individuals and societies to witness, to endure, and to testify against chaos has never been more real to me than during the Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations.
Fifteen years after the September day that changed the course of nations and the course of my own life, I have returned to the city where my journey started. On the afternoon of February 18th, 2016, I am sitting in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations. In the next few minutes, my name is about to be called to go onstage to receive one of five Outstanding Youth Delegate Awards. In the next few moments, I would be recognized for demonstrating exceptional character and unparalleled dedication to achieving sustainable development in front of an audience of 700 youth from the ages of 16 to 30 representing 70 nations across the world. But at that very point in time, I do not know what the results of the judges’ deliberations are. I do not know what is to come in the future. What I do know is that in this lifetime of journeys, disparate events in different places have transformed me. The world, its nations, and its peoples will be tested and despite the results of events, we shall continue and be guided by a uniting mission—to live towards harmony and order. Once I was a child who saw and did not understand. Now I am an inspired youth who can do. Thank you to the Undergraduate Professional Accelerator Fund for supporting my attendance at the United Nations Youth Assembly.