When I came to the United States, I was a foreigner. I didn't know English and I didn't dress like everybody else. I could still remember my first day in third grade - arriving with my mom and having nothing in which to carry my books home. Kids my age stared at me like I was some of an animal at the zoo. I felt humiliated to be different. Feeling desperate and helpless, I got through the day. When it day ended, I was so happy that I could literally have leapt out the window, but another humiliation met me. Not having anything to carry my books in, I had to carry them with my hands. On my way home, I tripped and dropped my books. Kids laughed out loud at me and some of them said "Look at that alien, she is so clumsy." I could say or do nothing. Worst of all, not one kind soul came over to defend me or help me up, because no one cared. I went home that night, crying for hours, begging my mom not to send me to this so-called school.
What could my mom do except to send me back? I went about being a silent girl in class as weeks and months went by. Boy, did it go by slowly, every day feeling like a year. People didn't seem to care anymore because I just didn't care whether they made fun of me or not. They eventually stopped because it wasn't fun for them. One day when I came home from piano lessons, there was a new bookbag for me with a note from my mom: "You've worked so hard and you deserve something special. I know you've been wanting a proper bookbag so much that I got you one." It must have been the happiest day of my life as a third-grader. I brought my bookbag to school the next day with pride. This bookbag meant that I could finally have something that everybody had. It meant that somehow I belonged - even though I still wasn't part of the American culture, I was on my way.
Gradually as the years passed by, I felt at home in the U.S. No longer was I the shy Chinese girl who showed up first day of third grade with her mom, not expecting some people to be so mean. I started to make friends and even be "fashionable" like all the other girls. People began to look at me like I was "normal." No longer did I think that being Chinese is something to be ashamed of. I was proud to be Chinese. Looking back at my years in elementary school, I never knew that a simple bookbag could mean that I belonged in a group. Although bookbags meant nothing to other people, it meant alot to me because it brought me closer to the American culture. My first bookbag will always remind me of the road I traveled to be the person I am today. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.