Accent? Qué Accent?
Recently, while making small talk with some new girls in my fitness class, one of them asked me, “Where are you from?”
It came somewhat out of the blue, and I am new to the area myself so without giving it much thought I naturally responded, “Brooklyn.”
But, as I looked at her reaction to my response, I was reminded that it’s not what she was asking. I could’ve corrected myself. I could have further clarified. I’m not new to this situation, but I didn’t. I decided to just let it slide.
Until she interrupted, and with her index finger poised in a gentle “no” gesture, she remarked, “No. No. That accent.”
Ok, now, I understand it’s hard to really grasp the dysfunction of that statement since you, dear readers, are unable to actually listen to me speak and hear for yourselves that I, in fact, don’t have an accent.
Of course, my husband would disagree. He often comments on the way I say wader (water) or meerah (mirror), because – though I ain’t no Rosie Perez – I am from New Yawk, after all.
And I don’t want to make it seem as if having an accent is offensive to me, I just don’t have one.
Spanish, as it turns out, is my second language. I learned it fluently at the age of 10. There are times when certain words in English, Spanish or my very, very poor Italian and French, get mixed up in my head and I make a big mess of it. Such is the struggle for anyone who is multilingual.
What was offensive was the realization that I so “looked” like I would have an accent that she actually convinced herself, or at least tried to convince me that I had one. That being from Brooklyn was not the right answer at all.
It’s incredible the ability that I have developed to ponder and resolve within myself in a matter of milliseconds when ignorance stands before me. I haven’t really figured out what the correct way is to ask the question. Inevitably people will want to know why I have such a great “tan”, or how it is I know to speak Spanish, but speak English so well and why the heck I have such an Anglo name and am so not Anglo, followed by then pretending to not notice their shock when I tell them that I am married to a white guy (Cool! Biracial couple alert! We’re soooo trendy and open-minded!).
If I am paying attention, I can decipher the real meaning behind the question, but in most cases, when I am not so aware of what is happening I will answer with the truth – I am from Brooklyn, NY – at which point it gets all weird because it’s not what they really meant and then they start hearing things like accents that don’t exist.
I compose myself internally, smile at her, and say, “My family is from the Dominican Republic.”
“Oh!” chimed in her overly excited friend. “My girlfriend told me that you should never, ever date Dominican men! She’s Dominican, you know. Is it true?”
Sigh. I can’t f*cking win.