Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Accent of My Life

I have always loved accents. Growing up, I loved listening to people from other Spanish speaking countries, and their accents. Specially, the accents from Spain and Argentina were my favorites. Argentina has a very strong Italian influence. So people there speaks with that Italian very melodic. And the Spanish from Spain...with the strongly pronounced S's and Z's and J's...oh! Back then, I could have fallen in love with a man from there just for his accent.

Little I knew, one day, I, too, would have an accent.

From those growing years, fast-forward: 1989. I move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And, the first time I enter a bar by myself, I order, try to have conversation with the bartender, apologize for the fact that I am having a hard time understanding her, because back then I was not a very fluent English speaker, and I say that I am from Puerto Rico and still learning...she smiles and says, "Oh, I know; I noticed your accent..". Huh? Accent? I don't detect an accent listening myself speak. As a matter of fact, in Puerto Rico, I was always complimented on how well I pronounced my English words. In my group of single friends, I was the most, how ironic: from being the most fluent in Puerto Rico, I went to being less fluent and an accent. If we met guys from the States that were visiting, for example, during spring break, I was the one called upon to interpret for everybody. The first time I heard the phrase "social butterfly" was during one of those occasions when I interpreted, because I went from group to group, person to person, transporting messages in both languages, and one of the gringos said I was the "social butterfly." And of course, someone else ended taking the boy home, after all the work I've done...kidding!

So, now, in Milwaukee, I happen to discover that I am the one with an funny! That was the first encounter with that reality, but not the last. Since then, I have encountered all the possible situations. I have been on the end of jokes, people imitating my accent (and not because they want to pay tribute to it). I have been told to quit faking it by some guy who thought I needed to make an accent up to appear if I wanted to appear sexy for him...ugh! And I have been genuinely told that my accent IS sexy. I have been told my accent sounds other than Spanish. I have come a long way with the fluency of my language since my first days here. But I refuse to lose my accent. And I have also learned to appreciate other English accents as well. I particularly like the British accent.

For those who like my accent...that's great-thank you! For those who don't or those who are stupid about it (oh, yes, there are some people outthere who is stupid about it, although I am happy to say, not many), this is my message to them: go learn a foreign language. Then, because that language will be your 2nd language, you, too, will have an accent. And, to those Americans who are really ignorant and mean about it...go to Puerto Rico, and attempt to communicate in Spanish. Your accent will be so funny people will be spitting their drinks when they start laughing. I thought so growing up. As a matter of fact, that accent was my LEAST favorite: a gringo speaking Spanish. But, you know what? In Puerto Rico, everyone is required to learn English, and anyone working in the tourism industry HAS to be bilingual. Most people will help you if you get stuck with your Spanish, and actually, only a few ignorant will spit their drinks when they hear you talk. So, go ahead, make fun of my accent, but before crossing the line from fun to mean, remember, it could be that someday someone will be laughing at YOUR accent...And in the meantime, my accent will still be beautiful...

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