It was date three with a guy I had recently met through Bumble and everything was going great until homeboy started mocking my accent. Yes girl. I was in the middle of telling a story, when he decided to interrupt and talk over me (something he often did) to point out my accent. “Your accent drives me nuts. It’s so cute. It’s like as intense as a Californian surfer boy’s accent,” he said cracking up. Lord, I wish I was making this shit up.
My mouth literally dropped and for a number of reasons actually. Before I get to the good part, let me provide you with some background on myself and Bumble date. I’m a 31-year-old women’s interest journalist who was born and raised in NYC – Queens to be exact. Both my parents were born in the Dominican Republic and migrated to the states when they were in middle school. I like to say I’m 85 percent bilingual because I’m not 100 percent fluent in Spanish but definitely capable of having serious conservations. I also grew up speaking to my grandma who lived with us in Spanish and I speak to both of my parents in Spanglish, meaning mainly English with a few sentences here and there in Spanish.
Over the phone I’m not sure you’d be able to tell where I’m from. I’ve had other Latinas and Dominicans make jokes about my “lack of Dominican accent” in both English and Spanish. Whenever I meet people from outside of New York, though they immediately notice my New York accent, I’ve also been told it’s not the heaviest.
So when a white boy from North Carolina with a very noticeable country accent makes a point to constantly remind me that I have the heaviest “Latina NYC accent” he’s ever heard,” it not only had me question who he’s been surrounding himself with the past eight years he’s lived in Manhattan, but it also made me all kinds of uncomfortable.
“You have a very noticeable accent too,” I told him. “Yea, but not like yours. It’s so cute and heavy,” he added. “Is it though?” I asked. “I’ve never gotten that before.”
“It totally is,” he continued before reminding me how much he loves Latina women.
Bumble boy had come to my Cuban salsa class for our second date and swore he knew everything there was to know about Latin culture. Regardless of how much he knew, there was still something upsetting about the way he always responded and mentioned by “so-called heavy Latina accent.”
“Say that again,” he said excitedly on our third date. We had hit up a restaurant in the Lower East Side to see one of my favorite Cuban salsa bands perform live. I had been taking salsa classes and Bumble boy loved the class, so we figured why not listen to some great music and dance while we’re there. I expected fun and dancing. What I didn’t expect was for homeboy to exoticize the shit out of me now that we were in a true “Latin setting.”
Moments after we got there, I had run into a fellow Dominican friend who had mentioned weeks before how much she loved this spot. Her and I broke out the Spanglish and after pronouncing a specific word in Spanish, Bumble boy asked if I could “please repeat it.” Apparently he loved the way I rolled my R’s and also loved the way I moved my hips when I danced salsa, and made a point to actually say all of this to me, out loud, in front of a ton of other Latinas.
We hit up a taco spot afterwards and it wasn’t long before my accent came up again. “I’m really starting to feel uncomfortable when you bring this up. Regardless of whether or not my accent is heavy, you bring it up like you’ve never heard a Spanish accent before and you mock it like it’s a bad thing,” I said. “No, no I love it. I think it’s so sexy,” he said.
Ah, now I got what this was all about. My accent, my look, my dancing, my curly hair, my bubble butt – was all part of Bumble boy’s dream image of what made a Latin woman. Of course, this wasn’t the only thing he used to talk about – he wouldn’t have gotten five dates with me if that was the case. We had a lot of great conversations about life, travel, politics, women’s issues, and even love. And when he wasn’t making dumb generalizations about people or Latin culture, he was actually quite sweet, smart, and fun. But a cute face and a warm personality wasn’t enough to let me forget how uncomfortable I felt whenever he would reference my Latin culture.
Part of the reason why I’m not 100 percent fluent in Spanish is because my parents who migrated here when they were in middle school, did experience discrimination because of their accents – a ton actually from bullying in school to straight up disrespect in their careers. My parents are both college-educated professionals too. My dad is a dentist who studied at NYU and my mom is a former medical technologist.
My first language was Spanish because I lived with both my parents and grandparents for the first few years of my life. When my aunt (who is a school teacher) noticed how heavy my Spanish accent was when I spoke English, she admittedly brought it to my parents attention. My parents were so concerned about me being placed in ESL or just experiencing teasing in school, that they made sure that I spoke in English only, before I started Kindergarten. They’d speak to me in Spanish and I’d respond in English or Spanglish. It’s a miracle I speak as much Spanish as I do today – I probably have to thank my abuela for that one.
There’s been a lot of Spanish-shaming done in this country, so much so that celebrities like Rita Hayworth, Charlie Sheen, Raquel Welsh, and Andrew Keegan actually changed their Spanish names to more “American-like” last names to not experience discrimination in Hollywood.
The New York Times did a story back in 1993 on how immigrants were taking speech classes to hide their accents, in efforts to reduce their chances of being stereotyped or just straight up discriminated against.
I’m not ashamed of being Latina, being from NYC, or of speaking Spanish – in fact, I’m proud of all of it. But the way Bumble boy made a point to constantly point out my accent – was a reminder to me of how different he sees us, despite the fact that we are both American-born. He didn’t think his country accent was as fascinating as my accent because in his eyes, he’s “American” and I’m this “exotic Latina.” You know, an other…
I’ve learned a few things from this very interesting dating experience, one being to never let anyone let you feel ashamed or like “an other” for having an accent. And to never give a dude who makes WAY too big a deal of your accent another date – never again!