The Pencil Case
Sometimes I sit in class and I feel embarrassed about my pencil case. A silly little thing to be embarrassed about, I know, but it keeps me awake at night thinking about whether I should get a new one or keep on with the one I have. Because I love my pencil case — it’s simple, it’s small, and it’s adorable! So practical. – but my pencil case also screams ASIAN. Which makes sense since, you know, I bought it Korea.
I’ll sit in class with my notebook and my pencil case side by side. I’ll glance around and notice that nobody else has a pencil case like mine. They either don’t have one, or theirs is the typical Staples plastic awfulness or some variation that sucks just as much. I feel so conscious of my defenseless pencil case. It sits there, representing how Asian I am. And I’m embarrassed because it’s not sending the message I want.
At Notre Dame, I am embarrassed to be “too” Asian. What does that mean? I don’t know. But it does mean that I’m constantly conscious of what I say, what I do, and what I have. Am I saying something that is ignorant to American culture? Am I doing something that I picked up from my parents? Am I using something that I bought in Korea? Will people think, “Oh she has that pencil case because she’s from Korea?” Sometimes I feel at ease only when I’m surrounded by my American labels. My Notre Dame football shirt, my Longchamp bag, and my JCREW pants are my shield. It proves to others that I’m not a fob.
Why do I feel that I cannot be Asian? Why do I have to be so overtly American? Why can’t I just come to terms with the fact that I am not an American citizen, I have a little bit of an accent, and that I am in love with anything Hello Kitty? I think being surrounded by people who are interested in pluralism and celebrating, not hiding, different cultures will help me become comfortable being a minority at Notre Dame.
I need help defining myself as something more than my race. I am so aware of it, and so afraid that everybody else is aware of it, too. Is that a good thing? Or is it a bad thing? What does it mean to celebrate my culture at Notre Dame? What is the balance of fitting in at the University of Notre Dame, which is 78% white, but also identifying myself as a Korean? I know so many other Notre Dame students have these questions too, and I’m hoping that MSPS will provide a safe and nurturing place to think about all of this.
I confess that I’m still struggling with my pencil case after a whole year at Notre Dame. But I am getting better. Now I can turn to the person sitting next to me and say, “ISN’T MY PENCIL CASE AWESOME? LOVE IT AND BE JEALOUS BECAUSE YOURS FROM STAPLES SUCKS.”