I have distinct memories from my childhood of resolutions to speak up in class and social settings. Most years, I failed. My shyness kept me tame as I got all my work done in silence. Each year I tried to increase my volume, but found myself closing back into myself when people talked over me, or even took credit for my work.
Gloria Anzaldúa speaks on her own experiences as people tried to stifle her voice as a lesbian Chicana. They tried to tame her wild tongue. The pressures around me did the same. I found it was too much effort to try to speak up. If I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t be ignored. My shyness stuck with me as part of my personality as I limited my words to close friends and need-based situations.
I knew I had things to share in my head, but it took me a while to arrive to the point where I could bring those thoughts out into the open. The impetus to do so presented itself in small instances, mainly in predominantly white classes in high school. I remember a white classmate claiming racism wasn’t prevalent because she didn’t see accounts in the news. That day I felt a need to speak up, even though my voice quaked the entire time. Because of instances like this, I found that if you put the tongue in places where it has to speak up for the identities of its owner, a duty to speak arises.
As the years went by, I found more need for my voice as I got involved in matters I cared about. I got involved in organizations at my school and in my community, building up knowledge and forming connections. It was in those spaces that I found I had unique experiences that needed to be shared. I learned that others were going through similar struggles.
Bit by bit, I took leadership positions that pushed me out of my comfort zone and surprised me. I spoke, and people listened. I found the things I had to say mattered. More importantly, I saw people who looked like me speaking up, teaching me that I, too, deserved to take up space.
As I trained my wild tongue, I learned that being ignored was only one of many responses to what I had to say. There was also praise and appreciation. But there was also criticism that stemmed from ignorance. I learned this after I came out as a proud undocumented and unafraid Latina in my high school graduation speech and presented my resilience alongside my struggles. I was bombarded by media sources trying to report on my story.
Through that experience, I learned that my voice carried power. I learned that my voice could be threatening. The negative comments that came from strangers and people I had grown up with sent the message, loud and clear, that they didn’t want me speaking. I had internalized my silence for so long as something that was wrong with me, not a result of various factors out of my control. I had to learn that my voice is tied to my humanity.
In the midst of the political tide that was taking over America, I felt the need for my voice more than ever because my humanity was being brought into question. I spoke out because I had to. I felt the urgency and got involved in new ways once I got to Harvard. I joined The Crimson because of this urgency. During my first editorial board meeting, we voted against making Harvard a sanctuary campus. The majority opinion felt like a direct attack after I introduced myself as the only undocumented student in the room. That day, I wrote my first dissent with two other students. Several more have followed since then.
Writing became a new way for me to share my voice that I hadn’t known in high school. I published more pieces and took on a column my sophomore spring. Writing became empowering and allowed me to share my voice openly.
But writing comes with its own set of difficulties when done in such a public setting. With writing comes a lot of vulnerability as you put yourself out there and open yourself up to criticism or negativity from the comments section. Writing also requires motivation to begin the process.
This past semester, I’ve found little motivation to write because of my mental health and another wave of imposter syndrome as I look to academia for my future path. Keeping in mind all the work I’ve done to train my tongue, here is the reason I am writing this column: Writing is scary, but it has also become a form of resistance. Spots at the table are not handed to me. I must keep pushing for my voice to be heard.
Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20, a Crimson editorial editor, is a joint concentrator in History and Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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