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The beauty of multiculturalism

Amanda Pena | Thursday, April 11, 2013

I would like to begin by revealing myself as the actress who performed the role of “Ethnic Goddess,” an anonymous submission from a fellow Notre Dame peer, in this year’s “Show Some Skin: It’s Complicated.” The past few months were dedicated to discussing the content matter of each monologue, engaging in various exercises to extort fresh perspectives on the pieces and committing four-to-five hours to daily practices. In short, we treated these anonymous stories with the utmost respect.
“Show Some Skin” brought together students from all corners of the University. Diverse opinions on race, sexuality, body image and mental disorders were shared, and by pouring over each punctuation mark and line, the actors discussed their own personal stories and resignations along with the anonymous ones we were to perform. The amount of time spent in these discussions and the vulnerability of revealing personal information to each other united us into a family, a family that respected each other’s opinions and feelings on issues that are normally suppressed in the Notre Dame community.
“Show Some Skin” accomplished its goal of fostering dialogue and encouraging students to evaluate their own stances on these issues. It called on the Notre Dame family to be sensitive, understanding, caring and loving to all of its members, because we all experience complicated issues that, in turn, make us complex individuals.
Here at Notre Dame, diversity and multiculturalism officially belong to Multicultural Student Programs and Services. Granted, this office is necessary for locating resources and support, but race and culture are intrinsic to the human identity and should be embodied in every institution on campus. We have people from all walks of life in the Notre Dame community. We need to stimulate dialogue in order to fully appreciate each person’s uniqueness.
All of Notre Dame can be segmented into a variety of communities – ethnic, religious, homosexual, international, athletic, dormitory, quad etc. We might not all be star athletes, but you’ll catch a number of students at a football or basketball game. Maybe you live in Stanford Hall but you’re participating in Howard Hall’s Totter for Water. Maybe you’re a heterosexual Catholic but you signed a petition to the University for a gay-straight alliance. Maybe you’re an African American and performing in Asian Allure, or learning foreign languages and studying abroad. If more members of the Notre Dame community attended functions like Asian Allure, the Black Cultural Arts Council Fashion Show and Latin Expressions, maybe there would be greater appreciation for that cultural part of our peers’ identities. Our identities converge with one another’s, and so it is important to not only be exposed to, but to discuss and reflect on, multicultural experiences.
Race-based groups allow ethnic minorities to bond with peers who may be struggling with some of the same cultural issues as them. It provides a closer community with which you can be as involved or removed as you want to be. Each group hosts a series of events – often reflective of their respective cultures – to create awareness, celebrate their uniqueness and invite others to appreciate and share in part of their identity. Part of their identity. It is not all that they are, and it provides a space to break from stereotypes, since there are many at Notre Dame.
My monologue, “Ethnic Goddess,” attempted to express a Puerto Rican student’s struggle with feeling unique and appreciated as an ethnic minority. Her allusion to the white girl stereotype in terms of working out and eating only lettuce was only one example of not fitting into a superficial mold created by the Notre Dame culture. She also shared her frustration with being referred to as Mexican or an illegal immigrant when people discover she is Hispanic. These weren’t crude comments to ridicule the Caucasian majority – they were simply her opinions on how undervalued she felt as a Puerto Rican woman at Notre Dame. The point is many students – white or not – are experiencing confidence issues, identity crises and discouragement from standing out. The “Show Some Skin” monologue “Average ND” also articulated this idea very well.
If you view multiculturalism as a caste system, then perhaps you have not engaged in enough respectful and reflective dialogue on diversity. Diversity isn’t an issue because we make it one. It is an issue because there are still many who struggle to accept interruptions to “normative” constructs. By assimilating to the norm, we distance ourselves from the very essence of our identities. Race sculpts part of you from the day you are born because it is a characteristic that makes you a shade different from the rest. If you aren’t afraid to show some skin, then maybe you’ll be able to see how beautiful that is to your identity too. 

Amanda Peña is a sophomore sustainable                  development studies major with a poverty studies      minor. She can be contacted at apena4@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.