Reclaiming Quietness with #WalangHiya

As a writer, words serve as my tool. They are an inextricable part of my craft as a Filipinx American womxn striving to elevate the stories of the underrepresented.

Quietness is one of my greatest assets. At the same time, I’m unafraid of articulating my social and political consciousness through words. Despite my current disposition, my journey in understanding, embracing, and utilizing my voice has been an ongoing process. Growing up, I was given the label “quiet Asian girl.” I rarely spoke in grade school, and I wasn’t exactly jumping at every opportune moment to fill silence with my stream of consciousness. I didn’t always view my disposition with rose-tinted glasses. It was often disempowering. It took me years to deconstruct the shame attached to it and unpack the power in my quietness. 
I felt like an anomaly because I come from a lineage of pretty larger-than-life personalities. My dad is an extrovert, entertainer, and occasional boisterous ranter. My Grandma could befriend anyone and is a socialite of sorts. They embodied being Filipinx American for me growing up. I felt flawed for not fitting the extrovert archetype I built in my head.

In kindergarten, I was also mistakenly placed in an English as a second language (ESL) reading group because my teachers mistook my quietness for an inability to speak English. And since I appear Asian, they likely perceived me as a non-English-speaker even though English is my first language. I felt entirely misunderstood and at fault for this mistake.

I reached a turning point when I grew more and more into myself in college. Taking Asian American Studies classes and working alongside woke people of color in student organizations inspired me to decolonize my mind and body. The flaws I was conditioned to accept as flaws were in fact some of my greatest assets.

Often, popular media portrays Asian Americans negatively as quiet and meek. The media paints us as caricatures, not the dynamic human beings we undoubtedly are. Growing up I would have loved to see more unapologetically quiet Asian American characters who had agency and were more than props. I wish that I knew more of these characters who were confident in their disposition so I knew that I wasn’t flawed in mine.

Extraversion and loudness are also often incorrectly conflated with strong leadership, which I have seen not only represented in media, but also spaces in which I have worked. Where do I fit in as the “quiet Asian girl?” If there is no room for me as a leader in these spaces, then I certainly have to reclaim them.

In college, I came across different leadership styles and quickly realized one size does not fit all. I am in no way saying that leading with extroversion is flawed, but it doesn’t suit my best traits. There’s a lot of solace and introspection that can be had in quiet moments. I grew to see my quietness as a tool to make me a better writer and activist, allowing me to listen intently to an interviewee of a piece I was writing, or be self-reflective of my privilege and role in activism.

I worked within my alma mater’s Asian American/Pacific Islander-centered organizations and offices, advocating for and educating the student body on AAPI issues. Though this task was laced with its own often obstacles, my quiet disposition grounded me and made it possible for me to be a more intentional speaker. I worked on a board of about 16 people with inevitably varying opinions and leadership styles, but all with the common goal of representing and advocating for AAPI students on campus. I had to be patient and deliberate about the way I spoke so my thoughts could be understood and effective among the barrage of voices. People that I’ve worked with tell me that although I’m not one to interject at every conceivable moment, they appreciate how I talk with purpose.

In high school, my U.S. History teacher gave away superlatives at the end of the school year, awarding me with “the Triangle Award.” A triangle in an orchestra is not like a trumpet, blaring to be heard and noticed, instead chiming in at key junctures. My award symbolized the place of a triangle in an orchestra, where its sound doesn’t continuously resound but plays a paramount role in a musical composition’s melody.

I initially resented this award because I felt ashamed about my perceived quietness. Yet, the more I grow and mature into my Filipinx American womxnness, the more this metaphor resonates with me and the power I’m unpacking from my presence and voice. Don’t let the softness of my voice fool you–I see it as a tool for liberation, and I am reclaiming it with #WalangHiya.

This post is part of the Reclaiming #WalangHiya Project; see the landing page for more narratives.

Alicia Soller (she/her/hers) is a first generation-born Filipinx American womxn, writer and communications professional committed to social justice and elevating the narratives of communities of color. She is also a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received her degree in Journalism and began her involvement with Asian American & Pacific Islander activism. Alicia strives to use creativity and advocacy as a foundation for her work, and seeks to use communications as a means to mobilize communities of color, shedding light on the diverse issues, intersectionalities and experiences within them. She is currently the Managing Editor at the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) and does freelance communications, social media and design work with various non-profit organizations. Alicia is also a lover of the arts, podcasts, good food, and good company.

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