Minneapolis, Minnesota

Medium: Your mom says you’re very politically active. What does that mean?

Kat St. Martin-Norburg: I’ve been volunteering — and this past summer being paid — to work on political campaigns. I started officially doing this when I was a sophomore in high school. I was a fellow on the Hillary Clinton campaign for president. I spent about 15 hours a week there up until Election Day with volunteers, working on the campaign. That was a springboard into the political electoral side of the work that I’m now doing [with some other local campaigns].

What do the older staffers think about you being so young and getting into it?

I found a lot of people are like, “Oh wow, that’s so great that you’re involved.” And they say, “I only learned about politics when I was, like, 23. So it’s good that you’re getting involved now.” And I think that’s funny, because it’s like, how could you not be interested in the political side of things? For me, at least. Americans just don’t pay that much attention to it.

But I found a lot of times when there is significantly older campaign staff, like thirties and above, they are a little skeptical of my being there as a peer. Sometimes I have to prove that I know what I’m doing.

What do adults get wrong about your generation?

That my generation doesn’t work hard. I’ve found that older people, when they meet me, say things like, “You’re so different from your generation. You value hard work and you are respectful to your elders.” Even though they are like 30.

What has been the hardest thing you’ve done so far?

Oh boy, I don’t know. This past summer was a very challenging summer. I was working one unpaid internship and two jobs.

What were the jobs?

I had paid campaign work I was also doing, and I was a barista. I only started doing that in May of this year. I had literally never, ever before done any sort of customer service job whatsoever.

It must have been difficult getting used to that kind of work.

I did have to adjust to always smiling and saying, “Oh, yes, of course,” when it’s my fault, even though it was probably totally their fault. Like when they knock something over. You get used to being very hospitable. But I think it was a very useful skill to have, to be able to put on that face and be the nice barista and not yell at people for doing things that were their own fault.

People are wonderful, but they are also very annoying.

You were adopted. How much of a place does that have in your identity?

I think it has definitely grown to be more of a part of my identity than when I was younger. When I was younger, I was in a Chinese immersion school. People really didn’t care. A lot of my friends were also Chinese adoptees. But as soon as I went to middle school, it suddenly became an issue that I had to talk about. Because other children would be like, “You look Chinese, but your last name is, like… white? Why is that?” That was my moment to realize people didn’t even know Chinese adoptees exist, because they have never met one before.

People see that I’m Chinese and they’re like, “Do you know Chinese food?” Or “What is this custom or that tradition?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. I don’t have Chinese parents. I don’t know any more than you do.” They don’t understand that Chinese culture or any culture and whatever ethnicity you are, they are not intrinsically tied together. People struggle with that idea a lot. It makes people uncomfortable when they realize I’m not going to fit in one of the boxes in their mind.

Who inspires you?

This is a cliché thing to say, but it’s honestly true: My mom inspires me. She is the embodiment of strength. And she’s a really good mom.

What makes her a really good mom?

She’s like, “If you ever have kids, what would you change about how you would raise them?” And I always tell her, “I probably wouldn’t change too much.” She and I are very similar people. Our likes and dislikes. It’s funny because sometimes she’ll say, “Are you sure I didn’t give birth to you?” Like when we do something and have the same reaction to it. We have the same walking stance. When I answer the phone, people think I’m my mom. It’s funny because when you look at us, you wouldn’t think to connect the two people. I’m a Chinese girl, and she’s a middle-aged white woman. That’s not an association people have when they see us: mother and child.


This interview is part of The Edge of Adulthood: Forty-Six American Teens Discuss Their Lives, Their Struggles, and What’s Next.