Celebrating Pride: Xiaoyi Zeng-Covell
Passion for representation and youth empowerment inspires Xiaoyi Zeng-Covell to provide the support and resources they wish they had as a child to local youth. Their hard work, passion, and dedication ignites potential in the community by providing space for youth to exist openly and authentically.
Xiaoyi Zeng-Covell was born in Japan and moved to the States with their parents when they were three years old. Their mother, who received a full-ride scholarship to a university in Japan, serves as Xiaoyi’s most significant influence. Xiaoyi’s mother currently serves as the Director of Asian Initiatives at Western Michigan University. Xiaoyi describes their mother’s adaptability and tenacity as inspirational.
Whether it was the bold decision to move to Japan from China in pursuit of further education or the courageous move to the United States to provide a better life for Xiaoyi and, later on, their brother, Xiaoyi’s mother has consistently demonstrated resilience and determination. Her ability to make any environment work in her favor is a testament to her remarkable strength of character and serves as an inspiration to those around her.
Xiaoyi shares that their parents took some time to process their coming out as aromantic and asexual, but accepted their gender identity very quickly. Above all, their parents wanted to do whatever they could to support them.
In the midst of a moment that can be terrifying for many, Xiaoyi explains that one of the most healing parts of the coming out process was when their mom assured them that she would love them, no matter what. “When I came out to her she said, ‘Son or daughter, you’re just my child,’” Xiaoyi expresses.
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
Having left high school early for reasons related to their mental health and opting out of seeking a college degree, Xiaoyi lives a life that is successful and fulfilling, even without having pursued the traditional path toward success. Xiaoyi recognizes that the path they have taken in life is not traditional. Still, they feel confident in the choices they’ve made. “You can feel fulfilled without burning yourself out in school if that’s not right for you,” they explain confidently.
Xiaoyi loves learning and knows there are many paths that lead to a fulfilling life. As a peer support coach at Fire Arts Collaborative, Xiaoyi is committed to empowering and advocating for youth.
“There’s a lot of pressure to know what you want to do immediately,” Xiaoyi says. Their mom taught them not to settle for a career that isn’t fulfilling – and that there are many directions success can take.
In their free time, Xiaoyi loves to play video games. Open-world games like Tears of the Kingdom and Genshin Impact are some of their favorites. “I love how environments tell stories, and how the world shapes who we are,” they share. They also like to explore world-building by writing original fiction, fanfiction, and poetry.
Xiaoyi advocates for practicing self-care and taking pride in normal, everyday life. “Take a moment and think about the little things,” they encourage. “Play video games, pet a cat… take pride in what others might not think you should be proud of. Take pride in being a person.”
YOUTH OUTREACH AND SUPPORT
Growing up, Xiaoyi felt isolated as a queer Asian in the Midwest. They saw pieces of themself represented in the media, but never their whole self. Representation was hard to find in media and in daily life. “Queer youth spaces are usually primarily white,” they said. “I was usually one of two Asian people.”
Today, Xiaoyi is passionate about uplifting youth voices and providing representation to the youth around them. They aspire to leave a more welcoming and secure place for others – especially other LGBTQ+ youth.
“In my ideal world, I’d want to reshape the way spaces exist. Spaces claim to be youth-led, and adults hear them but don’t always listen. Youth are expected to act like adults, but don’t have the same authority or respect,” they share. By providing representation and support to the youth they work with, Xiaoyi Zeng-Covell has dedicated their energy to assuring youth voices are heard.
Xiaoyi is helping organize Solar Flair, a prom for LGBTQ+ youth. “I want to create a space where youth feel like they can come to a dance just as they are,” they said about the event. The sci-fi-themed dance will be held on Saturday, July 15. The event is free and open to all Kalamazoo youth 13 to 21 years old. Those who wish to attend are asked to RSVP here.