I stood frozen in front of 250 people at my quinceañera. I could feel my pulse in the palms of my cold, pale hands, which were clenched onto the microphone like the little kid in the park holding on for dear life as he waited for dad to get him off the monkey bars. This was it, the moment where I would announce my womanhood with a traditional speech thanking God for my 15 years of life.
Standing still in the middle of the stage, my mind was completely blank. Reading and rereading my speech repeatedly for the past two months didn’t help at all. I couldn’t turn to my mom, dad or anyone else for help. It was just me and my deserted brain, hoping a miracle would happen and words would come spitting out of my mouth.
Everything was silent. The kids who were running around screaming and crying a few seconds ago blended in with the hollow sound of nothingness.
The gleaming light of the cameras were centered on me, the princess of the night. My 42-year-old cousin broke the heavy silence, saying, “No puede hablar, le comio la lengua el raton!” She can’t talk, the mouse bit her tongue! An echo of laughter then spread around the room.
I closed my eyes and took two deep breaths. I wanted to prove them wrong so people knew me for who I really was.
My legs quivered under the coral fabric of my $800 dress. Cheap for the usual quinceañera dresses that are over $1,000, but expensive for a one-day use. I curled my toes inside my shoes and opened my mouth: “Thank you for coming.”
My mouth grew dry after talking for about four minutes straight. The words I was looking for came back to me like the zap of an electric shock, and I concluded my speech: “Enjoy the party.”
That was the first time most of my family heard me speak more than just a few words – something nobody expected, especially not in front of a big audience. I remember seeing tears running down my mom’s face, and a proud smile I wanted her to keep. Everyone was stunned, including myself.
Over the previous 10 years of my life I’ve been constantly made fun of for something that didn’t come naturally to me the way it did for almost the whole world: talking. Simply saying hi takes me two minutes to recite over and over in my head, worried that I will do something wrong. Am I saying it right? Should I say it louder? Do I say hi now, or later?
“Why can’t you be normal like everyone else, did the mouse bite your tongue or what?” It’s always the same phrase within my family. Getting made fun of by your own relatives, who are known to support, love and protect you. I was so preoccupied by their words that everything I did was wrong. Craving isolation even from my own parents brought me safety. I thought, “If I stay out of their way, maybe everything will get better.” After all, I was the apple on a tree of pears.
My quinceañera made me realize I do have a voice, and I can use it. I want it to be heard. I want to help kids recognize their true potential despite the things people say, even if it’s their own family because something simple like talking can be an underwater tornado for someone else.