In the Dominican Republic, starting at ten years old, I used to study English in an institute on Saturdays. I remember the place as if it were yesterday. It was a really big public school called “San Francisco De Asis.”
I moved to the United States when I was 13 years old. We lived with my aunt, mom, and cousin in an apartment. In that institute in the DR, I learned all the English I knew when I came to America. I will always be grateful to the teachers who taught me. If I hadn’t studied English there, it would have been so much harder for me when I moved to the United States. So much harder to get involved in the school, make friends, and learn school subjects.
It meant that when I came to America, I already knew some English. But I was still afraid to speak, because I thought that if I said something incorrectly people would laugh at me and judge me.
At first, it was hard for me to get used to living in a new country, a new language, and a new school. Having to speak a new language was the hardest part; even though I spoke English, I didn’t feel comfortable talking in English.
It was really a struggle for me to say anything in English without having that constant fear that people were going to judge me if I said anything incorrectly. It was such a struggle for me that even when I had to ask for the simplest thing like asking for an order at McDonald’s, I would hesitate to do it, and sometimes I would ask my aunt or friends to do it for me. But, as I got more involved in the school and made more friends, I started losing that constant fear of getting laughed at.
In the United States, I started in 9th grade. My cousin was in 10th grade, so we would walk together to school and back home. One day we decided to go to Subway after school to get lunch. Subway was one of my favorite fast food places, and my cousin and I would go frequently. At Subway, you have the option to put any kind of sauce in the sub you want: BBQ sauce, Ketchup, Mayonnaise, Ranch, Caesar. That day, when the guy taking my order asked me, “What kind of sauce do you want?” I said, “Caesar” (one of my favorite sauces). The guy started laughing and turned to his coworker and said, “I thought she was saying “Sí, sir” [which means “yes, sir” in Spanish].”
This made me really mad. It felt like he was laughing at my accent and the way I spoke, when he also looked Hispanic and probably understood the struggle it was to learn English.
But I didn’t say anything and tried to take it as a joke and laugh with him even though I knew what he did was wrong. After that happened, every time I would go to a fast food restaurant I would – and still do – ask for my order and think about that guy in Subway. For a while, I would always wait for them to laugh. But no one else has done that. Instead, they have always been so nice and understood everything I was saying right away.
It has been two years since I came to America, and over time I have learned that I have to stop being scared of speaking in English and of being judged. I’ve come to learn that I cannot truly live my life if I focus on what other people think. Instead, I can just be myself.