Asserting myself, especially in the face of “authority” has taken practice. I still have a long way to go, and I appreciate the signs I get that I’m doing better.

I was at a doctor’s appointment with my mom at a health center that services native speakers from East Asia, mostly China, Vietnam and Burma. There are a lot of elderly and a smaller population of younger immigrants who go there.

I went with my mom and my gaggle of kids. We sat on the edge of a fairly large waiting area with about 25 other people in a U shaped formation. It was a decently large room with the healthcare workers facing the open end of the U. Every few minutes, a nurse or doctor would call in a patient using the English pronunciation of their Chinese names. Sometimes it would take a few seconds for the patient to realize it was them being called.

We were there for about 15 minutes when in walks a group of what looked like administrators to the center. They were taking a tour of the facility.

They went into the patient area behind the desk and then came back out into the waiting room and started talking. They parked themselves in the open space of the U between the chairs where we were waiting and the desk, obstructing the view of many patients. The noise level doubled as the group of 8 people in suits and business casual chatted and laughed.

I had my laptop out and was trying to get some work done while managing the kids. I was distracted, and it took me a while to realize that the group had been there for over 10 minutes making a whole lot of noise. My mom strained to hear if the name being called was hers. I could see the same with the other patients.

I thought it was quite ironic that these people who appear to be leaders for this health center were completely disrupting patient care with their presence. There was no social or cultural awareness that they were causing a form of chaos and confusion in that room as their conversations in English overshadowed the activity in the center.

I was one of very few native English speakers sitting in the chairs (possibly the only one), and as I observed, I kept feeling the need to say something. I tried to ignore it because I didn’t want to cause “trouble.” When the group didn’t leave after 5 more minutes, I finally pulled myself out of my chair, approached the person who appeared to be the leader and tapped his shoulder.

I said, “I wanted to let you know that it’s quite loud in here, and some of the patients are having a hard time hearing their names being called.” He was taken aback by my approaching him and quickly replied, “Oh, we are done anyway and just about to leave” dismissing the fact that they had been a disruption.

In these situations, I often am amazed at the difference between the actual reaction by the person and how I would have reacted. I would have said a variation of, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I had no idea we were so loud.”

This man clearly saw himself as an authority, at a higher level than the patients he was supposed to be supporting, and it’s likely no one has actually ever approached him in a waiting room of immigrants to be quiet.

I feel proud to have been a voice for those people in that room who did not have the language or power to say something to this group. And I am also proud that my kids were able to see me take matters into my own hands and do something about a problem.


I write everyday because it allows me to voice what is at the surface. Once that is out of my head, I can dig in another layer deeper. My daily writing practice has been my greatest exploration of self and humanity. Sign up here to receive these thought nuggets in your inbox on the daily.