Tuesday, April 21, 2009


When I was a kid on vacation with my family, people always asked my parents where they were from and my parents had to give two answers 1) what country they came from 2) what state in the US they resided in.

As I've gotten older and started going on trips myself, I noticed no one cares to ask what country. Accents say a lot and I guess mine says I'm an " American", and not one of those foreigners ;). They seem more fascinated by my state of residence. When I tell them what part of the country, they seem a little shocked. "But you don't have an accent?". Duh, I live in a large city. Accents usually occur in the rural areas. I know what Stephen Colbert feels like when he tells people he's from South Carolina.

Anyways, on my trip a woman who has never lived anywhere but her town of 300 people with zero immigrants started to complain about those pesky foreign immigrants to me. My friend and I (both immigrants) looked at each other and thought, who does she think we are?

I've learned that accents are a big deal. Sales people are nicer to me than to my parents even though they can afford things I can't even dream of affording right now. In immigrant neighborhoods you see ads advertising classes on how to speak with an American accent because it means you can make more money. They've learned that many Americans harbor bigotry towards people with accents.

Not all accents are equal either. My boss is British and people love her accent but my co-worker's Chinese accent is something customers find annoying on the phone. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger, I find his accent to be incredibly thick and hard to understand, yet people are fine with an Austrian accent but I doubt they would feel the same way with a Mexican, Chinese, or Nigerian accent.

Point is, English is one of the hardest languages to learn, in an age where most Americans only speak one language (hey, I'm guilty as well), should we really be in a position to criticize or look down on those who speak 2 or more?


Anonymous said...

Foreign sounding accents, particularly those from non-European countries, usually elicit a lot of xenophobic anxiety from most Americans, who feel that our country's culture and way of life are being threatened by foreigners. That's the main reason a lot of Americans are opposed to giving ANY breaks to undocumented immigrants, despite all their blabbering about 'waiting in line'. People care more about what you look and act like than whether you have a green card or not.

I first immigrated back when I was 13, and I had a pretty thick hispanic sounding accent (plus I only knew a little English), and the xenophobia really burnt. It wasn't so much that I was the victim of hate crimes or whatever, but I was treated and spoken to like someone other than a normal kid, and I absolutely felt like an undesirable. Now I'm in college, and even though I'm undocumented, since my accent now lets me pass as regular American citizen, I can definitely tell how much more accepting of me people in general are. The more I lost my accent and learned how to speak fluently, the less I was 'otherized', pretty much.

That's how it is in every country, though, not just the US. People are always dehumanizing those they see as fundamentally different.

Damn Mexicans said...

Along these same lines, a friend of mine moved from Brooklyn to a small Midwestern town in junior high and people thought her Brooklyn accent was a foreign accent.