Illustration by Jules Struck

How two women found the courage to love their true voices

Embracing the way we speak means learning to accept ourselves – our pasts, our peculiarities, our pain. Two women show us what it takes to go down that road. Episode 1 of the podcast series “Say That Again?”

Episode 1: You Are How You Sound

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When a colleague told actor Cynthia Santos DeCure that she didn’t sound Puerto Rican enough to play a character from there, she was stunned. The island was her home, even though she’d spent much of her life trying to fit into the Los Angeles community she moved to when she was 14. She never really thought she could change so much that she would lose that crucial link. 

“It was emotional,” Ms. Santos DeCure says. “I realized I had spent so much time perfecting other sounds, and not enough time really cultivating my own.”

Across the country, Amy Mihyang Ginther was also struggling to find her voice: to reconcile her experiences in the mostly white community in which she was raised with her longing to – literally – understand the Korean family who gave her up for adoption.

“‘[The] Little Mermaid’ was one of my favorite Disney movies growing up,” she says. “I could really relate to a character who was living in one world but had a yearning for another.” 

Each woman’s story is a journey to learn what it takes to truly love every part of ourselves, and the role our voices play in the process.

This podcast has a newsletter! It's run by Jessica Mendoza and funded by the International Center For Journalists. Click here to subscribe. 

Episode transcript

Cynthia Santos DeCure: Oh, I have a quick question. 

Jingnan Peng: This is Cynthia Santos DeCure. 

Santos DeCure: So will you be editing these?

Jessica Mendoza: Yes. 

Santos DeCure: Just making sure that all my ums, and ums and –

Peng: She’s a voice and dialect coach for film, stage, and television. 

Santos DeCure: – although hesitation is part of identity, mind you.  

Mendoza: No, exactly, we don’t want to over – over edit you.

Peng: And she was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where – 

Santos DeCure: – a lot of folks speak Spanish. So Spanish really was my first language. 


Mendoza: When Cynthia was 14, her family moved to Los Angeles. And even though she could speak English, she discovered pretty quickly that she sounded different than the people around her. 

Santos DeCure: Today, the way that I'm speaking to you, is not the way I spoke when I first moved here. I would say, “I want to go there,” you know, “I want to go to the store.” Or I mixed tenses, so I would say, “I go to the store yesterday.”

Mendoza: Cynthia wanted to become an actor. But she was told over and over that she would need to change the way she sounded. 

Santos DeCure: It was pointed out to me that I was speaking outside of whatever the norm was. And I was told that was something I needed to conquer.

Peng: So eventually, Cynthia got really good at blending in.

Santos DeCure: It was something that I worked really hard at. But the journey was really challenging.

Peng: And she only realized much later that she had lost something very important in the process. She had lost the sounds of home.

Mendoza: It happened at a rehearsal, years after she started working as an actor. 

Santos DeCure: It was the first time that I was finally, like, playing this Puerto Rican, and another colleague of mine pointed out – “Whoo, you know, you don't have the rhythm. It’s like, You're sounding more L.A, you know, L.A. Latina as opposed to Puerto Rican.” And I had assumed I had it, that I owned it. And it was emotional. It was emotional because I realized I had spent so much time perfecting other sounds and not enough time really cultivating my own. 


Mendoza: Hello and welcome to Say That Again? A podcast about how we sound, how we listen, and why that matters. I'm Jessica Mendoza. 

Peng: And I’m Jingnan Peng. Today is all about the connections between our voices and our identities – and the forces that shape how we sound.

Mendoza: We’ve got stories from two women from very different backgrounds. But they both somehow spent their lives trying to answer the same basic question: How do our voices, this very intimate part of us, help us understand who we are and who we can be? 

Peng: This is Episode 1: "You Are How You Sound."


Peng: So Cynthia, I should have asked this at the beginning but I forgot. Could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Santos DeCure: Hello, hola. My name is Cynthia Santos DeCure, she/her/hers. I am an assistant professor adjunct of acting at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale.

Mendoza: Cynthia’s journey with voice and identity starts where most of these journeys begin: In childhood. 

Peng: We mentioned she grew up in Puerto Rico. That’s the island in the Caribbean that’s also a US territory. She learned English in school. But again, her main language was Puerto Rican Spanish. 

Peng: Sort of linguistically, what makes Puerto Rican distinct?  

Santos DeCure: Each accent of Spanish in Spanish has their own prosody. Prosody in itself is intonation, music, the movement of sound. So for example, we have the word posibilidad in Spanish. And the prosody of Carolina, Puerto Rico, which is where I came from, I would be speaking like, posibilidad. Da da da da da. There is sonoric movement that rises more. I would say it's more mountainous. Whereas in L.A., I may have heard posibilidadPosibilidad. Da da da da da. So more equal weight on the measures of the word.

Posibilidad. Da da da da da. Posibilidad. Da da da da da. 


Mendoza: Cynthia is trained in voice work and theater, which is what she uses to articulate these linguistic and musical concepts. But her exposure to beats and rhythms and sound started at home. 

Santos DeCure: My dad, rest in peace, was an amazing arranger, composer of Latin music, Afro-Caribbean music, Puerto Rican salsa. Those rhythms, those Caribbean rhythms, were so active in my home.


Peng: Man, Jess, I really nerded out at the part about prosody and posibilidad.

Mendoza: Of course you did. 

Peng: Yeah. And you know, I also just loved listening to Cynthia in general, to the melody of her talking, and the pauses, even.

Mendoza: So something everybody should know, Jing is a huge language nerd. So it makes sense that he loves that part of the conversation. And I did too. I thought it was really fascinating. And it all actually touches on a theme we come back to throughout this podcast, which is: how we speak is kind of map of our lives.

Peng: We talked to a couple linguists about that. One of them is Dennis Preston.

Dennis Preston: It's difficult to think of something that's more personal and ties you to your groups than the language that you use.

Peng: He teaches at the University of Kentucky. 

Preston: My language ties me to Louisville, Kentucky, because that's where I grew up. I could prove I'm from Louisville because I can say Louisville correctly and almost nobody else can. They say funny things like Lou-ee-ville and Loo-is-ville and Loo-uh-ville and –

Mendoza: Guilty. [laughter]

Preston: All kinds of crazy things rather than Louisville.  

Mendoza: The other is Monica Nesbitt, who teaches at Indiana University. 

Monica Nesbitt: Yes, it is the case that the various aspects of your social identity are going to influence the way that you speak. As linguists we talk about, What is your input? So what is the language that you were hearing when you were growing up? You're usually hanging out with people who were born and raised around you, people who identify as the same gender, you know, your socioeconomic status. All of these things come into play.

Peng: So when Cynthia looks back at the sounds of her childhood, yes, it’s the music. But it’s also everything else: The way her family talked, argued, laughed – and shared the things they loved. Like food.  

Santos DeCure: Specifically, this one dish that's made with plantains, que se llama mofongo, that's the biggest thing. In my family we have this thing where we'll go and try different types of mofongo, y entonces, if it’s garlicky, no tiene garlic, no sirve. My husband calls it the mofongo quest.

Peng: When her family moved to California, Cynthia brought all the sounds of Puerto Rico with her to her English. But she was told her English sounded “foreign.” 

Santos DeCure: When I first moved here, I spent about two months in English as a second language classes. And that instruction was reductive and injurious. 

Mendoza: The classes were based on repetition. Cynthia and her classmates were made to parrot recordings of simple words like –

Santos DeCure: – “restaurant” or, you know, “bathroom,” or days of the week.

Mendoza: And the goal was to sound like the people in the recordings, who had what was considered the “correct” American accent.

Peng: But what Cynthia found really hurtful were the assumptions her teachers made. Like, they often assumed that because she had a Puerto Rican accent, she couldn’t understand English. 

Santos DeCure: They talked to us like we lacked intelligence. And I found that really insulting. It's not like I lacked English knowledge because in Puerto Rico, I had to learn both. I just didn't have pronunciation and daily use of it. 

But I was also insulted by the fact that I had some peers in ESL who had just emigrated, and maybe they didn't have as much knowledge of English. I was also insulted by the fact that they were treated in that way, that somehow their lack of knowledge of English made them less intelligent. I would sort of be the one in the classroom that would correct the teacher, say, “We understand, you know, you don't have to talk to us that way. We understand.”

Peng: This is actually one of the main reasons we wanted to do this podcast: This idea that the way people say words indicates something about them beyond how they say words.

Mendoza: Right. We found it such a compelling idea. Because on the one hand, it’s true: Our sounds carry hints of where we’re from and how we were raised. But where it starts to get tricky is when we layer the stereotypes we have about places, or folks who live in those places, over the way people speak. Or as Dennis Preston puts it: 

Preston: Attitudes about language are invaded by attitudes about people. I mean, there no such thing as a dumb vowel or a stupid verb or an intelligent adjective. So when people say you “talk dumb,” then they have simply transferred the notion “dumb” from what they think about your race, your ethnicity, your locality. 

You don't have to search very far in the literature to find such wonderful sentences as, you know, “In spite of his thick Alabama accent, he displayed a great deal of wisdom.” What do you mean “in spite of”? What's wisdom got to do with your Alabama speech patterns? Nothing whatsoever.  


Peng: There's this argument though, that it’s useful to have a standard way of speaking a language. What are all those grammar books for if not to teach us the proper arrangement of words? Like when we write a paper, or give a presentation?

Mendoza: Right, or those pronunciation guides, you know? They’re supposed to show us the correct emPHAsis for different words. 

Peng: The emPHAsis of the right sylLAbles, you mean? 

Mendoza: Right, exactly. So in a lot of ways grammar and pronunciation rules are important to communication. In any language. We use them all the time in our work. But it’s also important to remember that those standards, and what we consider correct – all those things change.

Preston: This is a great myth that many folk have about language, that the standard is sort of fixed. And it's not at all. I mean, you can even still today find published grammar books that say the possessive of “everybody else” is “everybody's else.” It was the standard in the 19th and even early in the 20th century. 


Mendoza: So I actually had to look that up because I couldn’t believe it. But I found it! In a book called “Pure English: A Treatise on Words and Phrases, or Practical Lessons in the Use of Language.” Published in 1884. 

Peng: Professor Preston’s point is that we often unreasonably judge others when the way they sound deviates from the current standard. 

Preston: Normality sometimes has a prescriptive edge to it. We've punished people for not being “normal” like us. Many people have suffered because of the association of their language with a personality or region.

Mendoza: For Cynthia, that prescriptive edge showed up in her ESL classes. But the expectation that she needed to sound a certain way – that stayed with her. And it wasn’t until much later that she really understood how deeply she’d internalized that. 

Santos DeCure: I was already now working as an actor, going out to auditions and receiving the feedback that I didn’t sound Latina – or that I didn’t sound Latina enough. Saying, “You sound like you don’t speak Spanish.”

Peng: And then there was the moment we mentioned at the start of this episode. Cynthia was playing a Puerto Rican character for the first time. And a colleague – who’s also Puerto Rican – told her that she didn’t sound right. 

Santos DeCure: It was after rehearsal. She came up to me and was like, “You know, the rhythmic quality, intonation, and stress is, it's off.” And I, you know, I took that and I said, “Thank you.” But then it began to – to sort of touch in, in ways that I already knew. That all of the training had prepared me to move away from who I was. And that this space between California and the beautiful island of Puerto Rico was huge.  

I can remember it as if it were yesterday, listening to Sirius XM in my car, and I was listening to the Broadway channel. The “In The Heights” soundtrack came on.

Mendoza: “In The Heights,” by the way, is a musical. It’s about a group of young people in the mostly Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. 

Santos DeCure: And it was that song called, “When You're Home.” There's a bridge in that where Nina said, “When I was younger, I'd imagine what would happen if my family had stayed in Puerto Rico. Who would I be if I had never seen Manhattan but lived in Puerto Rico with my people, my people?” 


And I was in shock. I pulled over to the side of the road, on the 710 freeway and just wept. How could someone write a musical that reflected how I felt inside?

Mendoza: So Jing, when Cynthia first told us this story. I remember you got kind of emotional. What were you thinking? 

Peng: Well, you know, it’s such a scary and painful thought that you can lose the melody of your mother tongue. I read a book by the linguist John McWhorter, and he wrote that sound is the last thing we acquire when we learn a language. So you know, when we learn a language, we learn the vocab, the grammar, and the last thing that comes actually is that native melody and voice quality. Or sometimes we never truly acquire it. So in a way sound is what separates a native speaker from, like, even a long-time student. But then it works the other way around too.

Mendoza: What do you mean?

Peng: Well, that native sound is actually also the last thing we lose when we’re trying to change our own sounds. You know, like when we’re learning a new language or a new dialect or in Cynthia’s case learning standard English. So yeah, to lose your native sounds, that shows how much you’ve moved away from your roots. And I grew up in China for 18 years and then I spent the next 10 years in the US. And I just keep noticing that my Chinese vocabulary is shrinking and I have trouble expressing in Chinese things that I can express very easily in English. And you know, the idea that one day someone might call me out that I don’t sound Chinese anymore. Like, that would really shake me deeply.   

Mendoza: Yeah, it’s like starts with the vocabulary and it starts to sort of trickle down. No, I can see how that would be really scary. And I think about that sometimes too. Kind of like you I didn’t grow up here, I grew up in the Philippines, and I’ve been speaking both English and Tagalog for basically my whole life. But being in the States, I haven’t really been around anyone who speaks Tagalog. So I haven’t been using it very much the past few years. And when I visit the Philippines it’s like everyone is speaking this new kind of slang, I don’t understand the context anymore, I’m completely out of it. And it can be kind of funny. But it when you stop to think about it’s also a little bit scary. And it is terrifying in some ways to think that we can lose that sound the way Cynthia did.

We do have some good news: Cynthia does try to reclaim her sound again. We’ll hear about her journey in a bit. We also talked to a woman whose mission in life is to help people do the same: that is, to find and own their sounds. In her case, it’s so her students can be better actors. But it turns out the rest of us can learn a lot from her approach, too. 

Peng: We’ll be right back.


Clay Collins: Hey everyone. I’m Clay Collins, an editor at The Christian Science Monitor. I really hope that you're enjoying the show. Two quick asks before we take you back to today's episode: If you like what you’re hearing, please share it with someone else who might find it engaging. And if you have a story of your own about accent and identity – or just a comment – please share it with us! Email podcast@csmonitor.com. Thank you!


Amy Mihyang Ginther: Are you introducing me? Did you need any support in my Korean name pronunciation?  

Peng: Welcome back. You’re listening to "Say That Again?" A show about how we sound, how we listen, and why that matters. 

Mendoza: Our next guest is a woman named Amy Mihyang Ginther. 

Ginther: It's – there's a little “H” sound between "mi" and "yang" and it's a little between “yang” and “yang.” So it's like “yang.”

Mendoza: Mihyang.

Peng: Mihyang. 

Ginther: Yeah. That's great.

Peng: Like Cynthia, Amy is an actor and voice coach. She’s also an assistant professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz

Ginther: – and I teach acting and voice and text and I do accent design for theater productions. 

Mendoza: Amy’s approach to teaching is part of what caught our attention. In particular one technique she uses – 

Ginther: – where students map all of the ways that their voice and speech have been shaped through their life, their experiences, their families. And they start to put together how their voice came to be. 

Some of us grew up in households where the culture is, everyone yells at each other. Not in a bad way. It's just they're loud. And you can hear them at that table in the restaurant a mile away. There are families where no one speaks, where you do not cause conflict, right.

Peng: And so Amy gives her students some prompts to get them thinking about these things. 

Ginther: What have people said about your own voice or what feedback have you gotten about it? And some of them will say things like, “Oh, yeah, I'm always being told I’m too quiet and I have to speak up,” and, “I mumble.” And so we start to talk about those things.  

Mendoza: Yeah. Oh, my gosh. When I was in like, maybe it was middle school, my voice, I guess, had a lower register than other girls my age. And, you know, the boys would tease me about that. And they would say, like, “Oh, you don't really sound like a girl.” And I hadn't – I haven't thought about that in years. 

Ginther: Yes! That is a perfect example, Jess, like the idea that someone told you, “Oh, you sound this way.” And we internalize that. And maybe not always consciously, but then someone like you could be in my class. And we're exploring a character that invites us to find a deeper pitch or deeper resonance. And it's like, “Oh, this hasn't been accessible to me because I've been living my life thinking that, if I do that, I'm going to sound a certain way that's not going to be acceptable.” 

I think for me, growing up in the U.S. as an Asian-American woman, people would assume that I would be really submissive. And so I started to – to push my voice out, to show people that I was a strong person. To not mistake me for that stereotype. But that also left out a big part of my own range of sounds that are maybe more vulnerable or fragile or lighter.


Peng: So Amy came to this line of work because, like Cynthia, she also went on a journey to find her own voice. 

Mendoza: Important fact about Amy: She was born in Korea, to a Korean mother –

Ginther: I was adopted when I was three months old. 

Mendoza: – and she was raised by her adoptive family in upstate New York. So she was this Korean American kid living with a white family in a mostly white community. 

Peng: At home, her mother was a comfort and a model to her. And her voice was a big part of that. 

Mother: Amy, do you know what today is? What day is today?

Young Amy: Wednesday.

Mother: Right. Today is Wednesday. Let’s sing our song about the days of the –

Young Amy: [singing] John Jacob Jingleheimer – Sunday, Monday . . .

Ginther: She had a really soothing voice. But she had a full range. When she was mad, you know, and she was worked up about something, pitch wise, she could be all over the place. So that's always been super, super inspiring to me.

Mother: Remember, April is the month and today is April 23rd, 1986.

Mendoza: Her mom sang to her too. 

Ginther: When she would wash my hair, she would sing the song from South Pacific. That's like, "I'm gonna wash that man right out of your hair." 

Ella Fitzgerald: [singing] I'm going to wash that man right out of my hair.  

Ginther: But instead she’d do "dirt." So it would be like, "I'm going to wash that dirt right out of your hair."  

Fitzgerald: [singing] I'm going to wash that man right out of my hair and send him on his way… 

Ginther: Having my mom sing to me – super, super important for my own voice.

Peng: But outside the home, Amy felt a lot of pressure to not seem foreign. So, from the time she was very little – 

Ginther: – like baby age –

Peng: – her parents signed her up for Korean Culture Camp. 


Ginther: Like it's the fan dancing and the Korean food. And you learn a little taekwondo and you learn folk tales. And I'm sure they do more K-pop now at culture camp than we did growing up… 

Mendoza: And looking back, she didn’t not enjoy going. 

Ginther: Had good friends there. My parents were active volunteers. You know, it’s – I’m grateful for it. 

Peng: But still. Culture Camp was one more thing that made Amy different from a lot of the kids around her. Especially at school. 

Ginther: I was one of very few kids of color and I was bullied. I was called racial slurs. I was, you know, am I from Japan, am I from China, all these types of things. When you grow up like that, the last thing you want to do is, like, be Asian and to stand out.

When I wasn't at Culture Camp, for example, the other 51 weeks of the year, I was just doing everything I could to assimilate.

Ginther: [performing] I wanted to say that I know the entirety of The Little Mermaid by heart ...

Ginther: “[The] Little Mermaid” was one of my favorite Disney movies growing up, because I could really relate to a character who was living in one world but had a yearning for another world.

Ginther: [performing] … wish I could be part of your world – which would be for once a place where my family and friends actually looked like me. 


Mendoza: When Amy was 21, she finally went to Korea to meet her birth mother, who she calls her oma, for the first time. 

Ginther: What I remember most from the moment I reunited with her was, it was her voice that I immediately felt a connection to.

Ginther: [performing] … her cries burying themselves deep beneath my skin. 

Ginther: And I could hear her voice and she was crying like these big sobs, moving through the hallway to get to the room where I was at.

Ginther: [performing]  Mihyang! Mihyang … I do not know who you are. And I cannot understand you.

Peng: That moment was the beginning of a long journey for Amy: To rebuild her relationship with her Korean family, but also to process her loss and grief around their voices, which she never had a chance to experience.

Mendoza: To do that, Amy turned to voice work, to theater.

Ginther: My first solo show, "Between," was about a number of different other adopted folks from Korea, also a mother who was pregnant and about to give up her child. 

Mendoza: She also plays her own Korean mother towards the end. 

Ginther: And we did this in my undergrad program on campus. And then we took it to Korea.

I felt so nervous about that because I was doing it for a Korean audience and I felt like I needed to convince them that I was authentically playing a Korean woman. And I – my Korean is, is intermediate at best. Sometimes in a taxi I'll be using my Korean, but they'll notice an accent and they'll ask me if I'm from Japan or China in the same way that I was asked that on the playground growing up, but from a Korean taxi driver.

A friend of mine who's a media scholar, she's also adopted. And she said, actually, it's so much more poignant seeing you struggle to embody this character,  because then the audience really understands what is lost in you being adopted and not growing up speaking Korean with your family. Seeing the struggle is actually the most dramatic part.


Peng: But even as she was processing that loss, Amy was also able to connect with her Korean mother through this experience.  

Ginther: There was a part where I actually read my, my oma's words from a letter that she wrote me. And I read it in Korean while the English version, translated, was playing as a sound cue.


And I think that I did feel like I really embodied her voice because she is my mother and our voices are very similar. Realizing how much that deeply resonated in my own body through that language, I feel like that's – that's a pretty close way of – for my own healing, to feel really close to her. 

Mendoza: Yeah. And I guess we've been asking all of these questions of you because we're trying to get at the way you've thought about and lived this connection between your voice and your identity over the years. How have you seen your voice and your identity shift? 

Ginther: I think working with my voice in relation to my identity, it helped me learn that I’m as Korean as I want to be in whatever situation I want to be in. And I'm as, you know, American as I want to be. But it's changing. It’s not static. It's not fixed. 


When my students enter my class, they generally say, I hate my voice, I hate my voice, I hate the way I talk, I hate my accent. And our voice, our speech, all of that is part of who we are. And so when students say that, they are in some way saying they hate a part of who they are, a part of themselves. And so my goal is to find ways or create spaces where students can love themselves a tiny bit more in the short time we are together. 

Mendoza: So I loved hearing Amy talk about loving ourselves a little bit more, because I’ve always been a little self-conscious about my voice. Jing, you know this, I used to work in broadcasting and I was always so worried about how I came off to other people. Like do I sound smart? Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? And now that we’re doing a podcast where there’s this expectation again that we have to be behind the mic I feel like all that fear and shame, it’s something I have to wrestle with again, especially we’re recording. But so when I hear that other people feel this way, I feel like I can look back and actually examine the choices I made about the way I sound. And then kind of realizing that I can also make changes to those choices moving forward. And that feels pretty empowering. It makes me feel like I understand myself better.

Peng: Right, and you’re sounding great, Jess.

Mendoza: Thanks, Jing.

Peng: Yeah, but it’s such an important thing to look back and think about how we’ve come to sound this way. When I’m listening to myself narrating the podcast I’m wondering, am I accessing my full range? So yeah, I’m really excited to think more about how my voice has been conditioned. And it’s been super exciting to talk to Amy and Cynthia. And I think that’s going to help me become a better host. 

Mendoza: Yeah. Yeah, well, good thing this is only our first episode. That means we both have time to work through all of our issues.


Peng: So that actually brings us back to Cynthia’s story. When we last left her, she was wrestling with the realization that she had lost the sounds of home. And that was shocking and painful. 

Mendoza: But remember that feedback her colleague gave her about her voice? That she didn’t sound Puerto Rican? Cynthia came to understand that that wasn’t just criticism. It was also an invitation. 

Santos DeCure: The offering from this other artist was not to say, “Wait a minute, you’re not doing it right.” But she was asking, “Can you honor it? Can you really, you know, honor it?” And it was a gift. And I took it.

Peng: And so how did you go about it? Did you use like memories to regain the sounds of home?

Santos DeCure: I went straight to music. I went straight to the sounds that I heard when I was growing up. I had conversations with family members, I had audio recordings of family and sounds, and sang and cried and just realized this is who I am. You know, I've, I've always been Latina. Siempre, siempre [he] sido puertorriqueña. I've always been Puerto Rican. I’ve always had the sound inside of me.

Mendoza: That last piece – understanding that her voice had always been her own – that was a big moment for Cynthia. It was the step she needed to really embrace her full range. And it was actually her mentor who helped her get there. 

Santos DeCure: Catherine Fitzmaurice said to me that, you know, “Your sound has never left you. It's still inside of you.” And it was a recognition that – it was permission. There it is. It was permission. Because I wasn't giving myself permission to really be as big as I can be. I was limiting it. And it was permission to let the sound be what it is. To allow myself to let it be. 

I think we may have more than one sound that we own. And that's OK. They're still part of who we are. We don't have to wrestle with, with one or the other. We can accept and own both of them, unapologetically. We could also make a conscious effort to say, “I'm not going to accommodate my sound for anybody else.”

Peng: Today Cynthia tries to teach these ideas to her students. She even had this voice exercise to help students give themselves permission to use the different voices inside of them. 

Mendoza: She would recite a piece of poetry, and she would gradually switch from one accent – or one voice – to another, and back. 

Santos DeCure: But I will use this one. This is Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

(Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


Santos DeCure: It's really important that we honor ourselves and our own linguistic identity. We have to look at ourselves and listen to ourselves first and celebrate the richness that we bring into, into our sounds. Your own discovery is going to make you this empathetic human being about other folks’ sounds.

So the amazing scholar, Gloria Anzaldúa, she wrote that linguistic identity is twin skin to identity.

Santos DeCure: [reading] "So, if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself."

Mendoza: The full quote is from Anzaldúa’s book, “Borderlands/La Frontera.” The chapter is called, “How To Tame a Wild Tongue.” 

Santos DeCure: They're intertwined, you know, so you can't divorce one from the other. Your sound is who you are. 


Peng: And that’s today’s episode! Thanks for listening, and hope you all enjoyed it!

Mendoza: If you know somebody who feels self-conscious about the way they talk, or has a story about their voice or accent, please forward them this episode. It would really help get the word out about us. You can hit the share button on the platform you’re using or send them the link to our site: csmonitor.com/saythatagain. This episode was written, reported, and produced by me, Jessica Mendoza.

Peng: And me, Jingnan Peng. It was edited by Clay Collins, Samantha Laine Perfas, and Ashley Lisenby. Sound design by Morgan Anderson and Noel Flatt. Additional sound elements from Atlantic Records and The Internet Archive. 

Mendoza: We’d also like to thank Cynthia Santos DeCure for the use of her father’s work. Ray Santos is a Grammy Award-winning artist who composed and arranged the song, “Sunny Ray.”

Peng: Also thank you to Amy Mihyang Ginther for sharing some amazing tape of her as a kid with her mom. She also shared a performance of her show “Between,” and the solo piece she did for the Voice and Speech Trainers Association Identity Cabaret in London in 2014. 

Mendoza: This podcast was brought to you by The Christian Science Monitor. Copyright, 2022.