“Realistically, how many successful people do you know with thick Mexican accents? The reality is, you’re in America, if you want to succeed, you have to work on your accent!”- said a friend of mine while applying a tough love approach. That statement sent shivers down my spine just based on how shockingly unjust it was. Think about it, a person’s accent, not his or her abilities or intellect, being a deciding factor in future success. I decided to dismiss that theory.
Sure, I can’t really think of any successful business people or CEOs with thick Mexican accents so he might’ve been right about that. But still, that fact doesn’t want to make me eliminate my accent. I believe my accent is a distinct feature that sets me apart from everyone else. In a sea of people that sound exactly the same (in both tone and metaphorical voice), I take pride in sounding different. Loving and accepting my accent wasn’t always an easy choice.
Growing up in Mexico, I didn’t have to worry about my accent. The fact is, you start noticing your accent when you become a foreigner. Moving to a different country without knowing the language can be intimidating. Now add to that the societal pressures of being a teenager and accustoming to a complete culture change. Besides worrying about gaining general knowledge in Science, Government, and Math, I had to prioritize my overall English retention. I take pride in actually immersing myself in the challenge and seeking outside resources to accelerate my English knowledge. I remember cutting out all Spanish television and music cold turkey in an effort to familiarize myself with the American culture and learn about pronunciation. Closed-captioning, thesauruses, and Spanish-English dictionaries became my only friends during my teenage years. Moving from ESL (English as a second language) classes to regular classes at such a rapid pace was a great personal accomplishment. So why did everyone kept fixating on my accent?
I remember, for a few years, I was very insecure to even speak up. In my mind, people were going to focus on my unintentional mispronunciation and ignore the point I was trying to make. I was also avoiding those backhanded compliments like “wow, you’re actually very eloquent!” or an instant “where are you from?” after I finished a statement. So for years, I became a wallflower as a survival technique. It wasn’t until I actually found my voice when I flourished as a person.
Writing in my journal and commenting on posts online made me realize my power. Engaging in thoughtful debate with total strangers made me believe that I have a voice that is peculiar, intelligent, and important. Hiding behind a computer keyboard allowed me to express myself without that vulnerability that came from face-to-face interactions. And ultimately, that gave me the confidence to say “screw it all, with or without an accent, you are going to listen to me.”
To this day, I still get those comments regarding my accent or correcting my pronunciation. But the difference from years ago and today, is that comments like that don’t affect my character or my voice. They only drive me to show the world, that yes I have an accent, and yes, I will be able to succeed. I could work on getting rid of it through daily practice or dialect coaching but I refuse to do it. My accent has gone from a personal embarrassing feature, to a literal showcase of how little an accent matters when it comes to someone’s real voice.