By Franches Garay, FINDink Contributor
An adaptation of my college admission essay.
For the longest time, I couldn’t speak.
It sounded foreign to my ears; words that were supposedly English weighed down by the accented lilt of the Filipino culture. Every word that came out of my mouth sounded wrong, sounded imported — as if there was a glaring stamp placed on my head just to further set me apart from everybody else: “Made in the Philippines.”
The move to America had not been a surprise to me. My mom had gone to the States before the rest of the family and for the years she was gone, she would call every night telling me tales of North Carolina’s winter night and bustling lights — how little snowflake fell from the clouds and stuck to the eyelashes of blue-eyed strangers and how little angels imprinted themselves onto the sidewalks blanketed by pure white. Growing up, I knew my mom as letters on the back of stamped postcards and as whatever pasalubong in balikbayan boxes that brought my five year old a sense of temporary glee. I remember that my little sister, barely three at the time of my mom’s departure, would cut out pictures of her and tape it to our family photos because every one looked just a little bit emptier without her.
Prior to our move, every conversation revolved around America — it was a brand new world and a brand new adventure. My parent’s called it the “family’s greatest adventure as of yet.” Consumed with naivety and innocent expectations, I agreed. And in November of 2006, I uprooted everything I ever knew and left behind the only place I’ve ever called home.
I remember that I used to - sometimes even today - pronounce words in my head again and again before even considering saying something, just to make sure that I said it right. It was a routine I memorized, a security blanket I veiled upon myself before even contemplating opening my mouth. It's hard to describe in words; a complex process that involved a lot of polishing, a lot of straightening out the foreign, ragged edges. The tongue flicks swiftly to the center of the mouth to trace every edge and every curve of each letter and the vocal cords vibrate in a smooth cadence to shape the normal rhythm of the American syllables. The routine became second nature, like a law I made myself live by. For the longest time, I spoke in a volume just above silence, a short and clipped voice of a mere whisper. The less time they heard me spoke, the less time they would be able to pick the sentences apart for any mispronunciations. Often, the fear would leave me crippled and paralyzed. I became quiet, self-conscious. The fear consumed me to the point that the words I spoke would echo back into my own ears as a crowd of faceless people laughing. For years in the confines of a classroom, I stayed silent and when I did speak - which was a rare moment - I did it quietly in fear of being laughed at. Presentations in front of the class were my worst nightmares and conversations with others were short lived.
It wasn't until recently that I realized that I let a fear so irrelevant dictate who I was. For the longest time, I made the mistake of continually fearing I would make one. For the longest time, I was unable to speak, not because I physically couldn't but because I wouldn't let myself. For the longest time, I silenced myself for the approval of others.
It took me a while until I was able to realize that my voice was just as important as anybody else's. Though still slightly tinged with a Filipino accent, my voice is a stamp I now wear with pride and honor: "Made in the Philippines” and damn proud of it.
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