As I continue to embark on my journey as a single mother and professional writer, I have met an array of people from all walks of life. With individuals ranging in media and corporate America; I interact with an eclectic group of people. Most of my interactions with them are driven by social media, emails or conference calls. I have not met all the people that I am linked up with in a traditional “face-to-face” setting; but when I finally do meet and speak to them (English, that is), people are shocked. Not because of the words that are coming out of my mouth, but because of how they sound when they do. Apparently, I don’t sound Latino enough.
“Excuse me?”… Does losing my accent mean I’ve lost my cultural identity?
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a bi-cultural woman (Italian and Colombian descent) who does speak Spanish; in fact, it was my first language. I just don’t feel like I have to sound like the stereotypical Latina when I do speak it. When I speak Spanish, I have an American accent and when I speak English, I don’t have a Spanish accent.
I began to question my cultural identity this year, after trying out for voice over work for a local radio station in here in Chicago. I was asked to read a script (mostly in English) with Spanish words. And although I tried to emphasize the few Spanish words that were in the script (words such as “Ancho” and “Chile”; which I nailed), I was then told that I did not get the gig because I did not sound “Spanish” enough. Do I have to have an accent in order to prove that I am Latin enough? Does the fact that I don’t have an accent affect my professional credibility? The answer to both of those questions is “NO!”.
Having to justify whether or not a person is Latino enough is a reality that many Latin Americans of all ages have to face. We are expected to play into these societal-made stereotypes that date back as far back as 1920. We are the books being judged by our covers. After a recent discussion with my ten-year-old daughter, I learned that she is facing some of the same experiences I had, but just in a different context. She told me that she recently had to prove whether or not she was a Latina to her classmates. “The kids at school don’t believe that I am Spanish because I don’t have an accent,” she said. “They think I have to sound Spanish in order to be Spanish.” I continued to tell her that people will naturally have their own opinions as to how one should look, sound or act; especially if you’re Latino. Just because these ideas exist, that does not make them right; it is what one does when they are faced with these opinions that matters. “You have to educate them,” I continued to tell her. Just because we have assimilated to our environment, does not mean that we are not Latino enough.
So, when I am asked: “Are you Latino enough?,” I simply say: “YES!.” I am proud to say that I am a first generation American who grew up in a bilingual home, and identifies with both cultures. I was blessed to be able to not only watch shows such as “Sabado Gigante” and “El Chapulin Colorado;” but I also enjoyed shows such as “M*A*S*H” and “Saturday Night Live.”
It took my recent conversation with my daughter in order for me to realize that one small comment can shake you to the core. In order for one to be comfortable and confident in their own skin they have to rise above these out-dates stereotypes in society.
[Photo by db Photography]