“Wait?! You weren’t born in Mexico? But your Spanish sounds so Mexican. You have that rhythm, that accent, that I associate with Mexicans,” a Colombian friend recently told me.
I beamed with pride, “Well, thank you. That actually means a lot to me; I’ve been criticized for my accent before.”
And just like that, I was transported back to high school biology…
*Cue dream sequence music*
“Hold on, you’re Mexican?” says the boy sitting next to me.
“Um, yeah,” I raise my eyebrow, implying that this should be obvious.
“But I’ve never heard you speak Spanish. Let’s see. Speak it, and I’ll be able to tell.”
I don’t know if it was the pressure of proving my identity with a few words, or if it was because I had been speaking English all day, but when I opened my mouth, out came the most Americanized, gringo-fied accent I’ve ever had.
I was mortified.
He laughed, “Nah, I knew it! You’re not Mexican!”
“Wait! Hold on!” I pleaded, and I began speaking in Spanish again. The words came tumbling out, rambling on about nonsense topics until that native-like phonology came back, until I recognized my voice.
“Oh,” he said, “never mind, I guess you are Mexican.”
At first, I was relieved; however, that moment bothered me for years to come. Why should my accent matter so much? Why would a few random words define who I am? No, I mean, why would I let another person tell me who I am? And if my English did affect my Spanish, if my accent got fudged a little, if it did sound a little American, why is that so awful? Am I any less Mexican or American? Am I any less me?
Accents are funny things; slippery and variable, subtle yet persistent, minute but meaningful. And now as a linguistics grad student, I welcome the comments on my accent. I’m always curious to know what the daughter of two vastly different cultures must sound like.
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Featured photo by yours truly.