A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How I Lost My Accent

I can't tell when it happened, yet the realization that it did smacked me across the face. Like a sudden accusation made by an invisible finger. "I recognize that accent", I told myself. The first time I noticed that Dominicans too have a distinguishable way of speaking Spanish was while sitting with my mom in our old green couch back in Santiago watching "Don Francisco Presenta". Jackie Guerrido was being interviewed this one time, and she started imitating different accents during the interview. She did Colombian, Cuban and other accents then announced that she was going to speak in a Dominican accent. I remember that I immediately laughed, "Dominicans don't have an accent!" I said. But they did and on that day I found that out after hearing Guerrido's transition from country to country and recognizing the one  that I undoubtedly sounded like. However, in that moment, it wasn't really an accent to me, but rather a part of my culture--it was completely natural.

Now an invisible finger is pointing at me asking me where my accent is. Now, I can only really hear it in others and though it warms my heart and takes me home, it no longer emanates from my garganta as it once used to. My "bolsas" moved on from meaning "balls" (yes, testicles) to bags. My laziness went from "haraganería" to "pereza". And at my job I've been told that I sound like I'm from Central America or somewhere indistinguishable. I leave Spanish speakers whom I meet for the first time confused in my Afro-Latino features yet unaccented speak.

I lost my accent. It was lost somewhere between the many times when I made sure to add "s" at the end of plural worlds and rolled r's in words like "comer". It was lost behind the shame of knowing that somehow every word that I spoke devalued me in the ears of those who've been taught that we can be defined by how hard we pronounce our "z".  It was lost in the shame of knowing that my value could be defined by how soft my "y" is when I say "yo". I lost my accent while trying to assimilate in a society where Spanish comes in second but Dominican Spanish, with it's afro-roots and refranes campesinos, can easily come in last. I lost my accent the moment that I started seeing it as an accent and not simply the way in which I speak... just like when being Dominican became something to identify with.

And yet, when I'm in pain I beg "Ay dio, quítame e'te dolor". When I'm sufriendo de mal de amores I beg para que el asfixie se me quite. When I hit myself, the words "la creta"slip out of my mouth as if I can only feel pain in the language that I spoke while feeling my first heartbreak, my first moment of despair, my first fall as a child that was always followed by an adult saying "no llores, eso e' pa crecer" ("don't cry, that's so you can grow"). My Dominican Spanish can be found in the club coming out of my lips as I mouth a bachata song, in my lamentable "ay" when I'm feeling worry. It resonates behind the "ha!" sound when I say "cahrro" instead of "carro".

Those are moments that I can't control where my native tongue sings in beautiful resistance. And yet when I speak intently and with every sentence preceded by an idea, I'm filled with regret in realizing that somehow I might no longer think in Dominican Spanish. 
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Monday, January 20, 2014

The strength in letting go

Sometimes we confuse practicing self-care with practicing strength. Or at least I do. Whenever I recognize that I'm at an emotional low, I immediately go into rejection mode: I think of practicing self-care as sitting down and writing more goals, as fantasizing about a better future, as drilling into my brain that I am a strong and independent woman who doesn't need anyone to validate her worth.

And every time that I react that way, I ultimately end up resorting to some sort of short-term solution for my pain: anxiety, eating too much, physically escaping by leaving the situation, etc..

One of my friends sent me a quote by bell hooks in hopes of making me feel better: "Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape." Well, no. I tried being alone for a couple of minutes. I sat on my bed, staring at the quote. "I don't wanna use my friends as an escape," I thought. Then the tears really came pouring down. And so I decided, or rather recognized that I didn't want tough love. I didn't want to be "strong" and handle this on my own. I needed people. So I reached out and before I knew it, I had built for myself a support group of friends to remind me that I'm worthy of love.

And that's pretty much where the failure was for me in the past: I felt that in letting myself actually feel sorrow, I'd become less worthy of love. I ignored my needs in order to not have to share feelings that I was ashamed of, and I somehow felt that keeping things inside was the strongest thing to do.

But there's so much strength in realizing that we're human and, even though we may be ashamed of our own emotions, even if we find ourselves not being able to fully lift our heads, we are always worthy of love.

So today I'm practicing self-care by sharing those things that I consider weak-emotions with close friends and by having patience with myself. Also by recognizing that letting go of pressure to be good all the time and allowing myself this space is an act of resistance in a society that shuns those who dare say "No, I'm not good."

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." -audre lorde


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