July 23, 2010
Come on, I have lost 3 times this article.  For the third and last time I will write and share my experiences as a speaker with a non-American accent in US.  This  issue becomes now stronger with Arizona trying to ban teachers with foreign accents from the school system, regardless the subject matter they teach.  Even foreign language teachers suffer from this type of stigmatization, when they are supposed to teach the students the sounds of the target language instructed.   The purists reach a point that make no sense.  Parents, school administrators who believe in this are hurting the students who need to be exposed to diversity.  Those students one day will attend an American college/university and guess what… they will have to succeed in classes where the scholars, professors and even TAs have strong foreign accents when they speak English.  I had teachers who are scholars from Haiti, Senegal, China, England, Venezuela and their accent is not an indicator of a lower IQ.
Now, I will look into this situation with a global approach due to the fact that I have been so fortunate to live in different cultural communities and visit other cultures either as a result of a personal life event or  for research purposes.  Media has a lot to with this construction, since they have portrayed the bad characters in movies with characters whose English linguistic skills are poor.  Therefore the viewer connects a foreign language with a social unpriviledge group, usually a minority that is poor, uneducated and illiterate according to stereotypes.  Mafia with strong Italian accents, promiscuous women with heavy Spanish accent, robbers and murderers who are Afro-Americans with slang or broken-English.
There is indeed a problem when we discriminate because of accent and that it extends beyond language, reflecting the social, political and ethnic values that are part of the discourse that creates the canons of a group.  I am not sure if this is a value for all Americans, but I have seen it in some I have interacted.  I am not saying it is a right or wrong value, because every culture is entitled to build their values according to their history, the problem arises when those discriminating values hurt a person or a group of people, and as members of a global human race we should have the disposition to negotiate and work towards building healthy communities.
As for me I have no plans at all of getting rid of my accent, it is part of my identity construction.  I have to prove to narrow/ limited minded people with M.A.s, Ph. Ds and no high school diplomas “hey, yes I have a foreign accent, I am not an idiot“ . Another stigma I have found  is that foreign educated professionals are undermined, since there is a hidden discourse that implies their linguistic, intellectual skills and information is from Third world places.  Some communities in America have a limited cultural abroad experience and believe an outsider is not capable to understand the needs of the culture of their community.  Well, that could be overcome if the outsider is welcomed and not excluded from the community.  It takes time and energy from everybody.
If I try to define and judge this experience I am failing in my purpose of finding truth. If I define the American construction of canons, knowledge and values based on the construction and experience I had by growing up in a different culture, I will ruin and destroy the beauty and uniqueness of the experiences I am having as a latina in US.  I am becoming better and FREE because I am finding the same humanity (greed, lies, manipulation, prejudice, elite groups, idiots, jerks, sisters, soul friends, injustice, peace, people in authority who misrepresent themselves beautifully) in people from different cultural backgrounds.

Published by Maria Santiago- Valentín