This post was contributed by Sathya Migdal.
A couple of months ago, I came across a thread on Twitter showcasing a video where AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) got criticized for doing the “Latina Thing” and pronouncing her name with the appropriate Spanish accent. Now I’ve never been one to go all out on Twitter, but this one hit home so you bet your girl hit that subtweet.
But let me elaborate a little bit…
I am Latina and can proudly say that I speak three languages fluently and with no accent. And throughout my life, I’ve been shamed both for pronouncing a foreign word in its “original” form, as much as for not doing so. I’ve been questioned for not having an accent, and shamed whenever one does slip out.
“Ah mais vous venez d’où? On sent un petit accent,” said the Parisian lady at my fav boulangerie my first year in Paris.
This was a phrase I kept hearing that entire first year in France. And the problem was never about being ashamed of people noticing an accent or them finding out I come from Mexico. There were simply moments where I didn’t feel like taking in small talk with the cashier at Monoprix after she noticed my accent. Or the man at my uni’s front desk after having waited almost an hour to pick up my books for the semester. Or simply anyone before I’ve had food in the morning – honestly – I am just not a morning person.
Anyway – I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment that allowed me to dive in all 3 of these languages fully and to understand how more than words, language is a culture that shapes your view of the world around you.
I am now able to appreciate and respect language in a completely different way. To the point where it’s basically become the main subject of my research at uni – and if that doesn’t say something I don’t know what will.
Language is a culture that shapes your view of the world around you.
Diving into your languages organically gives you a choice. I can make the conscious decision of pronouncing French words with the appropriate accent, or a Spanish word in its original form, even if the conversation I’m having is neither in French nor in Spanish.
It’s a choice that comes out of respect towards a culture. A choice that can simplify a conversation and allow us to share our different perspectives. It’s not a “Latina Thing,” or something to show off.
However, respecting and understanding a culture can also involve not making said choice. Like pronouncing English words like the French do because that’s also part of understanding their lingo. It can actually be quite fun really. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more Parisian than that time I finally decided to order an “ambourger” instead of a Burger.
Grasping these nuances shouldn’t be something to shame people for. Just like having or not having an accent doesn’t change the fact that you master a language. I mean c’mon, let’s get real here, we all love a French cutie hitting us with those strong sexy r’s or forgetting so naturally to pronounce h’s.
Simply anyone confidently speaking your mother tongue with no shame or care for an accent = H O T, trust me.
It’s not a trendy thing people do – at least in most cases- it’s just a matter of context and choice and that should be respected.
Meet Sathya: A young Mexican Psych student living in Paris. Portrait photographer showcasing multiculturalism through a lens. Keep up with her on IG.