In Paris people are always asking me where I’m from because of my accent. It throws them because I don’t have quite the heavy American accent when I speak French. And frankly my accent, just like my culture is a mixture of all the places I’ve lived in so far: Madrid, Brooklyn, and now Paris. A blend obviously hard to pin-point, when once again people feel the need to put me ‘the speaker’ in a box. When I speak Spanish, I have a Spaniard accent, but that can’t be quite right, since I’m black. When I speak English, it’s okay, because they are used to black Americans speaking English, even before president Barack Obama.
And when I tell them where I’m from, they still ask: but what’s your origin? Because saying Spain three times never sinks in. I’m after all black. Well imagine my delight when I had a chance to ask that question to a couple of black Irish 20-something guys in Paris last week. But when I asked, where are you guys from, it had nothing to do with their “origin”, and more about their experience as Afro-Europeans. And my question didn’t even say anything about place of birth , I simply said: what was it like for you growing up in Ireland?
We all shared a look, and smiled. The smile and look that said, yes, I know exactly what it was like for you, because I lived it too. Apparently they always get the: Wow I can’t believe how great you speak English ( or any European language) look. Which they always respond with: that is the only language I speak. I’m guessing somewhere in their highly developed brains, some people expect people of color to always have ‘an accent’ when speaking.
I brought this up to my Spaniard roommate, and this was his take: Well Ines just how you were the only black kid in school in Spain some 30 years go, some Spaniards have never come in contact with a black person. Some have never left their small town or travel abroad, and to them seeing you speak their language is a shock.
Really? Who knew the color of my skin would dictate my language as well. Well I’m happy to shock them in English, Spanish and French. Portuguese is next.