Humans of Harker: Harmony in humanity

Erica Cai bridges communities through stories and culture


Irene Yuan

“Every single person I’ve interviewed for Humans of Harker has said one killer quote that has stuck with me even through four years of high school, and I think I really do internalize those messages. There are nuances in every single person’s experience that makes it unique to them and also makes it a good lesson for everyone else. It’s just amazing to see how much wisdom every single person at Harker has, and it’s fascinating to learn about those stories,” Erica Cai (’22) said.

A musician seeking to understand the quirks of the world. A student activist expressing herself through mediums of art. An archer developing composure and resilience. What do they have in common? They each have a story to share, a journey, however lively and profound, embarked on, ready for the world to learn. Erica Cai (‘22) tells these stories, and more.

Erica first stepped into the journalism room with the hopes of nurturing her love for writing, but she soon found deeper purpose with the community and the storytelling within journalism.

“[Journalism is] not just writing; it’s about interviewing people and learning their stories,” Erica said. “That’s what really drew me to journalism because I got this opportunity to interview not only seniors for Humans of Harker but the Harker community in general. That made me step out of my shell and realize that I love hearing other people’s stories.”

Giving a voice and lending an ear to each senior has the power to tell the hidden and untold stories of the community. Hearing these diverse and sometimes surprising experiences and reflections opened Erica’s eyes to the impact of Humans of Harker, a publication she now serves as Editor-in-Chief of.

“Every single person I’ve interviewed for Humans of Harker has said one killer quote that has stuck with me through four years of high school, and I really do internalize those messages,” Erica said. “There are nuances in every person’s experience that makes it unique to them and also makes it a good lesson for everyone else. It’s amazing to see how much wisdom every single person at Harker has, and it’s fascinating to learn about those stories.”

Yet, sometimes, these stories can be overwhelming. Erica remembers when an interviewee opened up about sensitive topics within his personal life in her junior year. The burden of wanting to bring justice to his story, along with the increasing pressures of being the managing editor and seeking perfection, eventually weighed her down.

Reaching out to former HoH Editor-in-Chief Saloni Shah (‘21), Erica found the support and advice that pushed her forward: that to be a leader, one need not be perfect, but rather, to learn and to grow and to persevere.

“After hearing that, I was able to overcome that mental hurdle,” Erica said. “That was a turning point for me because I realized, why should I let other people’s expectations get in the way of me doing work that I love doing — learning about these stories and telling them in a way that will do these stories justice.”

Stepping up as Editor-in-Chief in her senior year, Erica embraced her role as a leader. Besides the technical responsibilities of managing reporters and editing profiles, the trust placed in her to listen to and portray every story to its full potential built her confidence, a change that helped her become more open-minded and outspoken.

As Editor-in-Chief, Erica launched initiatives such as meeting individually with each new reporter to mentor them through writing profiles and make them feel welcome. Fellow journalist and close friend Irene Yuan (‘22) admires her unwavering strength and resilience as an editor and her wholehearted dedication to the project.

“[Erica] is really dedicated, and she really cares,” Irene said. “She wants to make sure that each profile will turn out the best that it can be. [HoH] is something she’s poured her heart and soul into, and I can really see when she does it that she does it because she cares.”

HoH touches everyone in the community, from every reporter on the journalism staff to the students, teachers, coaches and mentors on campus to readers outside of Harker. The connections created, bridges built and “little moments” celebrated are what Erica holds so close to her heart.

“At the center of [Erica’s] interests is a real compassion for humanity and culture,” twin sister Teresa Cai (‘22) said. “When she [first] joined HoH, [our mom] was unsure of her pursuing the situation. Erica told her, ‘I get to write stories about people in my community, and that’s really important to me.’ That stuck out to me, how she’s really curious about people. She knows how to appreciate culture and wants to understand people and how different groups of people interact with each other.”

Erica’s care for humanity reflects in her love for East Asian language and culture. In sixth grade, she chose to study Japanese as her foreign language against her parents’ wishes, with the promise to her mom that she would pursue Japanese until the end of high school. Almost immediately, Erica fell in love with the genuine enthusiasm and welcoming atmosphere of the class.

Since then, Erica has researched Japanese politics and history, volunteered at Japanese museums and encouraged her peers to learn more about the culture as the president of the Japanese National Honor Society (JNHS). Almost seven years later, she has fulfilled her mom’s request, Erica reflected, laughing.

At first, Erica’s decision to take Japanese was not taken lightly, as China, Erica’s motherland, and Japan have a history of conflicts. Still, she sought to look past the differences by learning more about the past and her family’s perspectives.

“In order to understand someone else’s perspective, you have to get some context towards their environment, their culture, their values,” Erica said. “Learning other people’s language and culture and really understand[ing] different countries’ values or opinions is the key to resolving conflict.”

For Erica, understanding others’ situations is a priority, whether she’s seeking to learn about new cultures or having discussions with her family. 

“Whenever we have a disagreement with our mom or our dad, she isn’t afraid to speak up and voice her opinions,” Teresa said. “She really puts things into perspective. She keeps our family together, because she cares the most about our family.”

Erica extends her compassion to her friends, taking the initiative to foster friendships and to listen to her friends’ stories as well as share her own.

“The willingness to learn about [and] dive deep into other cultures and learn more is reflected in her personality, how she’s always willing to hear others out,” close friend Angela Gao (‘22) said. “She’s a mediator. She always tries to help everyone and always tries to talk to you if you’re upset.”

By immersing herself in new environments, Erica strives to further cultural connections. She visited Japan three times on homestays, exploring the country and communicating with the native people in Japanese. Erica further takes interest in Korean and Mandarin. To her, piecing together the unique sounds and characters is a puzzle, and she embraces the challenges and rewards and the deeper bonds formed that come with conversing with people of different backgrounds in a new language. 

“When you’re taking the time to learn someone’s language and culture, you’re opening your mind to something that may have [thought of] as foreign, [and] you’re taking initiative to connect with that ‘foreign aspect,’” Erica said. “In that way, the world needs more connection right now, and more understanding and open mindedness.”

Actively building connections through the unifying forces of language, stories and culture, Erica brings harmony to her community inside and outside Harker.

“I use language as a way to understand people and to learn about other people’s lives and mindsets,” Erica said. “I see Humans of Harker as a way to do that as well. One person can only do so much in their lifetime [and] have so many values and perspectives, but the fun in being a human is learning about what other humans are doing and learning about those perspectives through interviewing or through language and communicating with them in a new, different way.”