What Does it Take to Stay True to Yourself?

flower drawing

What Does it Take to Stay True to Yourself?

Art: Henn Kim

Staying true to who you are sometimes means that you have to hurt others. It sometimes means that you have to hurt yourself. Sometimes one hurts more than the other. The good thing is that the end result will always be the same: experiencing a new level of self-love. Different people stay true to different parts of themselves, while the people that I aspire to be like remain true to all parts of themselves. I struggle with this because I am the kind of person that thinks with their heart...always. I have found myself compromising parts of me that I don’t want to just to prevent experiencing the look a person gives you or the feeling you get when you hurt someone. I can speak of this so openly because I just recently discovered the other side of this dilemma. The side were you unapologetically remain true to even the smallest part of you. That small part that no matter how meaningless it may seem to someone else, means everything to you.

The following story is one that I don’t normally share because it’s one of those stories that marks who I was and who I am and I have exclusively saved it for the book I’m going to write one day, so let’s agree that I will keep it vague. Language means everything to me. At one point of my life, I only had one spoken one and when I came to the United States I had to work really hard to gain another one. I had to fight myself mostly, but others as well in the journey that today allows me to describe myself as bilingual on my resume. This story takes place around the time I started to understand English. I had just been switched from ESL classes to all English classes after one year of being in the United States. You can say I wasn’t feeling the most confident. I was in Math class, a subject I don’t understand no matter what language it is being taught in when I turned over to my one Spanish speaking friend in the class and asked her to translate whatever the hell the teacher had just said when the teacher turned to me and snarked:

“Speak English, you’re in America!” ice blue eyes piercing right through me.

I froze.

For months I’d go into my guidance counselor’s office begging him to place me back in ESL classes; I tried to purposely fail my classes but there was nothing in the world I could’ve done to make him stop believing in me so I gave up. I didn’t go down without a fight though, from 6th grade all the way to college I refused to speak English. I only participated in class when I absolutely had to and luckily for me most of my friends were bilingual so they would talk to me in English and I would reply in Spanish. The ones that didn’t understand Spanish got to know me as a very soft spoken even shy person. After a while, even they stopped finding it weird, it was just who I was. What they did not know is that I was carrying out my own little personal revolution.

When I got to college, things inevitably changed. Everything was new. New friends that didn’t speak Spanish, new classes in which people were so tired no one actually cared what language you were speaking, or maybe they didn’t see it as a threat and just so much room to be myself that that’s exactly what I did. The revolution had ended. I didn’t become the confident person that I am today back then but I did become the most confident person I had been up to that point. I had started to be my authentic self. The person that raised their hand immediately when they knew the answer to a question, turning it into a competition with my unsuspecting classmates. I was outgoing and welcoming and I actually looked forward to spending time with people.

Today I am still that, if you multiply it by infinite numbers. I am able to identify what I went through, both light and dark sides of it. I recognize it as an event that needed to take place in my life otherwise I wouldn’t have become exactly who I am. The thing is that me accepting it doesn’t automatically make it right. It doesn’t mean that I will ever accept someone trying to take away or diminish the importance that my language has to me and to everyone else that has ever left their home country, some which ONLY get to bring their language with them. This isn’t only because it is my first language, because it is mine and I get to share it with people that I can identify with but because as someone who dedicates their life to expressing themselves through words I have endless opportunities of doing so with the use of both my languages and I am privileged in the most humble way possible to have this. There is not one person out there that should feel privileged enough to try to take this away from me.

Until the Next Late Night,