New York, New York
Medium: Is there one particular political issue that’s most important to you?
Zayira Ray: Gun control. With every mass shooting and with every lost life, I’m increasingly numb to the atrocities of gun violence in America. That in itself—the near normalization of mass shootings—is terrifying. To think our government unapologetically turns a blind eye to the loss of human lives, the loss of children’s lives, is despicable. It makes me physically sick. We need stricter gun laws, but even before that, our entire country (not only the left) needs to collectively recognize gun violence as the urgent threat that it is.
What do adults get wrong about your generation?
That we’re unaware. If anything, my generation is hyperaware. We’re constantly surrounded by the media and activism, witness to the rise of key movements, and often directly exposed to bigotry—whether it be in real life or through social media. We’re angry, we’re passionate, and as we grow into adults in the midst of this raging political climate, we have voices unlike any others. Maybe more important, I really believe that we carry the responsibility of changing the course of our country—and that makes our awareness powerful.
What keeps you up at night?
Definitely the pressure of being “successful” in pretty much all areas of my life. Where I’m going, who I’m becoming, if I’m doing “enough” for my future… it goes on and on. The constant uncertainty of not knowing is weird.
Are you feeling optimistic or pessimistic about your life right now?
I try to stay as neutral as possible to prevent being let down, but I always find optimism in creating. Even if it seems like the world around me is going to shit, I find optimism when I’m making photographs and immersing myself in what I love. As for our country’s future, many of our current events tend to leave me feeling pessimistic, but also angry and passionate, and I think there’s always some optimism in that.
What’s been the hardest thing you’ve done so far in your life?
Probably being completely vulnerable in previous relationships and with those I’ve loved and allowing those experiences—good and bad—to have a formative influence on my growth. I’ve always been a reserved person, so trusting others, especially in the face of toxicity, has been really challenging, but also crucial to my understanding of both myself and relationships in general.
What does the future hold for you? And the country?
I guess I can only speak to my personal plans for the future, which in a broad sense are to work as hard as possible to better myself and achieve my goals. I’m hoping hard work will pave the way to a positive, fulfilling, and authentic future. But for our country, its future is largely dependent on us using our voices and our votes. Dependent on not shying away in the face of uncertainty, but on pushing for positive change. I really have faith that my generation has the ability and the will to do so.
Are you interested in having a family at some point?
I think so, eventually! Thinking about it now, the idea of it seems so stressful. Maybe it’s because of all the failed marriages I’ve been witness to for most of my life. When it comes to marriage or having kids, I think the number one thing, always, is responsibility—responsibility for both yourself and for others. I feel like I really need to get super in touch with myself and grounded in life to successfully carry that out.
Who inspires you?
Many people, but definitely my mom. She’s the strongest and most independent woman I know, while also being incredibly well-rounded, dedicated to her artistry, and utterly selfless. Basically, she’s my role model in so many different ways, and her endless support and encouragement have made all the difference in my life.
This interview is part of The Edge of Adulthood: Forty-Six American Teens Discuss Their Lives, Their Struggles, and What’s Next.