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By Mari D. González
Personally, I love accents. They tell me that the speaker is non-native, definitely bilingual and thus, intriguing. Accents define a person socioculturally and correlate to the individual’s upbringing and ethnic, national, or group identity. Some accents are more difficult to understand, some are less melodious, and some might annoy us. Some simply take time to get used to. Yet, our evaluations are subjective and relative to our individual context or opinion.
As a medical interpreter, I am accustomed to accents others might wish to avoid. In California, there are immigrants in many different professions. From time to time, I interpret for doctors from China and India who are not understood clearly by patients with good English fluency. I have concluded that such difficulty is due to the patients’ lack of familiarity with people from China or India. Or, perhaps they are not as intrigued as I am by different accents.
Why was I prompted to write about accents? I just read a white paper on Hispanic marketing written by a South American author who speaks to the need to “diminish [one’s] accent” because “having a Spanish accent [is seen as] a minus.”
My Mexican colleagues do not discuss “accent reduction,” though they may promote better pronunciation as the way to be better understood. As a Peruvian, the white paper’s author is speaking for Peruvians and to Peruvians, not necessarily for or to other Latinos/Hispanics or for that matter to the ones who make up the majority among them, Mexicans.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center country of origin profiles (2009), Mexicans make up 65.5% of Latinos/Hispanics in the U.S. and Peruvians 1.2%. The latter are not a significant presence in any large U.S. metro area unlike Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Salvadorians, and Cubans. Thus, this isolated “accent” perspective is too limited to consider as an overall Latino/Hispanic concern.
Based on personal observations, Peruvians demonstrate a greater desire to assimilate than Mexicans. As a Mexican myself, I find offensive to even bring it up because it indicates a desire to fit in instead of integrate. Mexicans have a different perception of assimilation and actually oppose it. This opposition might be the response to the never-ending socioeconomic friction that began with the clashing of the two cultures when the U.S. – Mexican border was in dispute and, following a war, was re-defined.
The background of the current state of Latinos/Hispanics in the U.S. is the Chicano Movement, whether we agree with it or not. The Chicano Movement is a point in history that precedes where we are as a cultural group now. It marks the second developmental stage of group identity formation, which is conflict.
The first stage is identification with the dominant culture. In other words, a desire to eliminate what makes one different from members of the dominant culture or assimilation. The author is implying being at the first developmental stage of group identity formation or having a preference for an Anglo Orientation according to the research by Vasti Torres.
I suggest that the author of the white paper become familiar with the writings of historian Rodolfo Acuña and philosopher Gloria Anzaldua, researchers such as Hayes-Bautista or Amado Padilla, and the more contemporary journalist, Gregory Rodriguez—not because they relate to Peru’s history but because they relate to the history of Latinos/Hispanics in the U.S. and because such history left a huge mark in the consciousness of our predecessors moving them into the second stage of identity formation.
I’d love to see more research-based versus opinion-based information on the topic of assimilation, ethnic identity and the relevance of accents. We can certainly produce it. We need more new and fresh facts about these topics instead of recycling what goes viral online.
Edited by Connie Cobb