On a recent trip to Palm Beach, Florida, I enjoyed a night out with a few locals. One of the women in the crowd asked, “Where are you from? I hear a bit of an accent.” Admittedly, her words made me a bit defensive. I quickly responded, “I’m a New York City girl!” Although it’s not the first time the comment has been shared, my guard easily goes up when I hear it.
We often associate the sound of an accent with the idea of a foreigner — whether it’s the local Washington Heights bodega manager, the Australian surfer, or the Indian cook manning the Halal cart on the downtown blocks. If we consider the definition of accent as a distinct way of enunciating words, usually linked to status, region, culture, or ethnic group, then it would be fair to assess that I do, in fact, carry an accent!
My parents came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when they were in their early 20s. My mother took English classes to improve communication with the outside world — she wanted to go to medical and school appointments on her own, without the need for translators. She managed to achieve her goal in the dominant language but was always a bit shy about practicing it in public. At times, she preferred one of us to accompany her and speak for her — I often wonder if embarrassment was a factor in her insistence that we tail her.
Generally, people invest a lot of time and energy trying to maintain appearances. We want to sound and look flawless at any cost. The price of vulnerability is high, and social media further conditions us to hide the ugly or different. Showing weakness of any kind is not an easy task, though necessary to live authentically. The fear or shame of exposing our truths is intimidating, borderline terrifying, and the only road to true freedom.
However, it’s important to own who you are unapologetically, whether that means flaunting an accent or personality. Showing off the real you doesn’t equal arrogance. It is a shedding of the armor that carries the burden of being someone else.
If you or someone you care about has been hiding behind a facade, it’s time to celebrate everything that represents the person’s essence. Self-pride is the biggest gift we can give ourselves. Loving all of the pieces of yourself grants permission to be you. Don’t settle for being anyone else because you are doing a disservice to your person.
I am a Latina brought up by Dominican immigrants, raised in Manhattan in one of the world’s most electric cities. My New York accent is not who I am, but it is part of the story of where I come from, and I own it.