“Can you say that again? I didn’t understand you.”
In my childhood and even today, I can be difficult to understand. My family mostly spoke Hmong at home, and as the middle child of nine kids, I spoke in my native language until I went to school. Articulating words and sounds in English was challenging for me then and still is today. Even though I’ve worked hard at speech therapy since kindergarten, people still ask me to repeat myself.
My own contemptuous view of my speech led me to become a shy, quiet and sad kid. I was exhausted by always repeating myself and never being understood. Soon, sadness laid in my mind, sometimes making me yearn to be someone else.
The journey to self-acceptance began when I auditioned for the fourth-grade choir. When I was done trying out, I somehow knew the answer already without being told. My heart became heavy as I heard my music teacher’s decision: “Sorry, you didn’t get the part.” I looked at the bland ceiling to stop my tears from flowing. At that moment I believed I would never be able to do the things I wanted to do because of my speech.
Despite my conflicting feelings, something in my heart told me to try again and not give up. I decided to audition again in fifth grade because of that optimistic inner voice.
One year later, my tiny hands trembled as I again raised the microphone. I began to belt, “Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number when the sun refuse to shine.” Cold sweat was dripping down from my forehead as I finished the last part of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
My eyes closed as I waited for the answer. My hands were clenched in anxiety, the bitter feeling of last year ready to return, as the teacher announced the names of the students who were accepted into the choir.
I was ready to again look at the bland ceiling to stop my tears from flowing. Instead, I heard a few simple words that would forever change my life. “Congrats, you got in!” Shocked, I opened my eyes in disbelief. I was overwhelmed and felt tears of relief on my cheeks. At that moment, the insecurity I felt about my speech had been taken off my chest and replaced with the feeling of determination.
Eventually, though, I had to face the inevitable: The day of the recital.
“Today is the day,” I thought, as my fingers clutched the skirt of my new sparkly green dress as I waited to perform. The crowd of parents and students made the butterflies in my stomach flutter. My heart pounded against my chest as I started to sing with my group.
Moments later I heard someone cheering me on and saw my mother’s bright smile. The butterflies went away, and I finished, feeling proud for doing something I’d never thought I would do.
Looking back, I realize auditioning for the second time has driven me to always try again even if I fail the first time.
I am also a more courageous person. Making friends comes easier to me, and talking to strangers is no longer an obstacle. Doing and learning new things is thrilling instead of foreboding. Most important, I learned to love myself and my journey.
Now I know my voice is what makes me unique and myself. I’ve always worried my speech would make people presume I’m not a sharp person or “normal.” What I’ve learned is my speech is only a small part of me and it will not dictate my future. My speech has made me a stronger student and person, someone who stands up for herself and others. Today, I am fearless.