“One white sheep, two white sheep, three . . . black sheep!”. A lullaby made for putting the young to sleep, but for me, it is a curse that keeps me up at night. The girl Penelope with a pig nose was hidden away because she was different, just as I hide away because I am different. The emotions and themes this lullaby conveys help explore the light in me, but my multiracial identity separates and outcasts me from the herd. In time I will find my confidence that will let me leave my darkness in the past.
I love that my two existences gave me a taste of different cultures: from my mom’s side I learned how to speak Spanish and make pasteles, and from my dad’s side I learned about love by learning to wrestle and sing. But people would only see my confusing hair, skin, and background. I would hear “What are you?” “Why do you have that name?”, and I would always refuse to answer because it is too much to explain. I have learned from the non-stop abuse of being misunderstood that nobody knows me better than myself, and I realized that the struggle of accepting my two sides just makes me human.
My diverse mind had its voice, but I felt I could only think and not speak. Often I kept quiet in school, at home and around family and friends. From my being silent to having untamed hair, to my skin and my stuttering, I felt people were assuming I was different or a nobody. As a silent being in a room of giants with loud minds, I learned about various personalities I couldn’t recognize myself in. So, how could I express myself?
When I entered eleventh grade we began doing Socratic seminars. You sit in a circle to discuss various topics, and you have to participate by talking. I had notes, but when it was my turn, I got nervous. I didn’t speak at all, so I got a failing grade. I went through about four seminars and didn’t make a sound. Eventually, my teacher encouraged me to speak, because she viewed my notes and believed I had great ideas. When my classmate asked if anyone wanted to answer the question, out of nowhere I said “okay,” and spoke. When I did, the room fell quiet. My leg was moving uncontrollably, but I felt good taking a step of confidence.
My first job was at Old Navy, and I was scared out of my mind. I walked in with a dry throat, without a thought that I would have to say a word. Someone came up to me, and asked, “can you help me find this?” and I said, “oh yeah I know where that is.” I realized I was talking, and it felt great. It clicked that I was in a place full of strangers, so I didn’t feel guilty for being myself. After a couple of weeks, I started taking chances by talking more to customers, and my coworkers made me feel more comfortable.
Growing up, I felt trapped by my silence. It felt like I didn’t have the confidence other people showed. I felt like I didn’t have anyone who was like me, I didn’t understand how people felt comfortable expressing themselves without overthinking. Now that I have practiced speaking up, I believe that I can try more. I’ve started to contribute my ideas in group work without fear of being shut down. But improving my speaking doesn’t mean that I have to become an extrovert. I found my own way of communicating, like speaking to my teachers at the end of class, rather than in front of my classmates. I learned how to speak up even in the littlest ways to find relief and success. I’m looking forward to a future where I continue to express myself with confidence.