My first language was French. It was what I spoke at home.
My second language was Spanish. It was what I spoke with my community.
My third language was English. It was what I spoke at school.
I never had much difficulty with words. Language always came relatively easy to me. Using words though? That was a completely different story. I knew how to use words to formulate my sentences (except for grammar—thank God for editors) and get my ideas and thoughts across, but for so long I simply didn’t vocalize them. They collected in my head waiting for someone to free them from the agony of only having myself to talk to.
I never spoke much as a child. Most of the time, I only spoke when spoken too. I don’t really remember why I didn’t speak. It was kind of just who I was. I watched. I listened. But I did not dare speak. This continued on as as I grew older, and my own refusal to speak became more and more aggravating.
Whenever people asked for my opinion I paused long enough that either someone else chimed in, or the situation became incredibly awkward, and the questioner decided to move on to someone else. Whenever someone said or did something that made me uncomfortable, I didn’t voice my concerns. I wanted to. I wanted to say something so badly, but I couldn't muster up the strength to do it. Why couldn’t I just open my mouth and say what I needed to say? What was so difficult about speaking, about engaging in conversation? “Girl suck it up and speak” the voice in the back of my head would always say. But I was stubborn and I never listened to that version of me. She was the me that was bold and confident and didn’t care what others thought.
I didn’t think that my voice was important enough for it to be heard by others. I thought I had nothing new or interesting to contribute. . The few times I had tried to speak, no one listened so why continue without an audience? Too often speaking felt like a shout into the void.
On the contrary, I felt that refusing to speak invalidated myself and my struggles and experiences, by simply not making them known. If there was something I finally wanted to speak up about, I felt like I couldn’t because I hadn't spoken up on so many things before. Why now all of a sudden? I felt like I had let people trample over me for so long by not expressing my opinions.
I wish it didn’t happen the way it did and I wish it was more on my own terms, but I finally let all the barriers down when someone in high school shook me to my core with their utter disrespect for my lived experience. When that happened, all the words and ideas that I had been harboring for so many years freed themselves into the air and the ears of others.
From that point on I decided that I would no longer keep important thoughts to myself. I wouldn’t let fear control whether or not I spoke. I would occupy space I once thought I couldn’t fit in. I would follow in the steps of those who paved the way, those who looked like me and stood up for what they believed in. Who spoke despite possible repercussions or negative attention. For so long I was invisible and unheard. That made certain people comfortable because they never had to actually hear the reality that our lives and they way we went about the world was different. Their ideas were never questioned. They always took up space with no pushback.
Now I occupy space, because I deserve it. I deserve to have people listen to my opinions just as I listen to theirs. I don’t have to sit in silence while others choose the narrative of discussion.
I might be extremely annoying on Twitter now, but I feel more comfortable stating what’s on my mind even if there is no audience. Even if it’s to the only four people who like my tweets. Someone might not have been listening then, but who knows who might by listening tomorrow, a week from now, or a month from now.
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After years of staying silent, I have finally found the ability to use my voice. I can’t stop there though. Like others have paved the way for me to find my ability to speak, I must work to help elevate the voices of others, so that people feel heard and that their experiences are validated.
Veronica Niamba is a Trinity junior. Her column, “not another subtweet,” runs on alternate Mondays.