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Under the Monocle: Honey Tey

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Under the Monocle: Honey Tey

Honey Tey at Tao Yuan, Taiwan in the summer of 2016.

Honey Tey at Tao Yuan, Taiwan in the summer of 2016.

Honey Tey at Tao Yuan, Taiwan in the summer of 2016.

Honey Tey at Tao Yuan, Taiwan in the summer of 2016.

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Honey Tey is a junior, an honor student and an aspiring lawyer. She and her sisters have all been York students now, with Jiji now attending UIC and Shelly in the midst of her freshman year. Her mom owns a popular nail salon on York Street, Cyndi Nails, which many York students frequently visit. Speaking with her, she acts and talks no differently than anyone else in the school– a surprising feat, considering that she lived in Malaysia for the first nine years of her life.

“My mom was doing hair in a salon in Vietnam, and my dad went in to get his hair done and they met,” said Tey. “They had a connection, and they got married in Vietnam. After that, they went to Australia and Europe, back to Vietnam, and then he took her to Malaysia, where they had my older sister Jiji, me, and my younger sister Shelly.”

Honey Tey, four years old, at her father's house in Malaysia.

Honey Tey, four years old, at her father’s house in Malaysia.

Tey remained in Malaysia for a majority of her early childhood, but her mother had come to the states years before Tey and her sisters came.

“My mom wanted a divorce, and she went to live with our aunt. After a while, my mom decided to move to America, after having her marriage annulled,” said Tey. “When my mom went to America, she had to start from the bottom up. She had to scrub people’s feet in salons for less than minimum wage. Then she started to build up money and connections with clients. My step dad funded her store and they opened up a nail salon. At the time, I was still in Malaysia, staying with my dad and my grandma.”

Honey Tey visiting her grandma, who still resides in Malaysia.

Honey Tey visits her grandma who still resides in Malaysia.

Once everything was set up in Elmhurst, Tey’s mother was able to bring her children to their new life in America.

“My mom came back and told my dad she was taking us back to America for a better life,” explained Tey. “In Malaysia, women don’t have a lot of opportunities. My mom had three daughters, which went against traditional Chinese values of having at least one son. She wanted us to be successful.”

Honey Tey and her mom, Cyndi Lee, at the NHS induction ceremony last month.

Honey Tey and her mom, Cyndi Lee, at the NHS induction ceremony last month.

Once they arrived, assimilating to American culture was the biggest challenge for Tey. Language was an obvious barriers, but she was actually more prepared than one might think.

“I didn’t know how to interact with people because everyone was white and I was the only Asian,” said Tey. “It wasn’t hard to learn English. In Malaysia we had these English cartoons like ‘PB&J Otters’ and ‘The Teletubbies’. I watched those shows more than I watched Chinese TV shows, and I learned English in school, too. I knew English, but not strong English. I also had a strong accent.”

Honey Tey with her friend since third grade, Kennedy Ruiz, at a Halloween party this year.

Honey Tey with her friend since third grade, Kennedy Ruiz, at a Halloween party this year.

Part of this assimilation process for Tey was adopting a new, more “American” name, since her Chinese name can be hard to pronounce. Her mother initially wanted her to go by Hollie, but Tey ended up going a different route.

“In third grade, there was some project with a jar of honey in it. The teacher said something to me, but I didn’t hear what it was. I blurted out ‘Honey’ and she was like, ‘Oh, your name is Honey?’ and I was like ‘Yeah’. The name Honey stuck,” said Tey. “People made fun of me for it at first because it was weird name.”

Once settled in, Tey began realizing how her situation would affect her placement in school, and started to try and rise above the expectations placed upon her.

“English wasn’t hard, and even though I had to do the ELL program, I wanted to be in higher classes. In eighth grade, I wanted to move up really badly, but I didn’t have the MAP scores. Freshman year, I tried really hard, and managed to move up,” said Tey. “I’m proud of how I came from barely speaking English at all to learning it in the ELL program, eventually making it to regular classes, and then high and AP classes.”

Honey Tey and her two sisters, Jiji and Shelly Tey, at Jiji's graduation last year.

Honey Tey and her two sisters, Jiji and Shelly Tey, at Jiji’s graduation last year.

Honey Tey is an example for all students at York and students in general that hard work really does pay off. She will go on to do great things; with the drive that she’s already exhibited, there’s no doubt she will get to where she wants to be in life.

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About the Writer
Gracie Tully, Graphics Editor

Gracie is a junior at York, in her second year on the York Hi staff as the Graphics Editor. She spends a majority of her time drawing, and on extracurriculars...

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