Naomi: “Leo, Kristina, both of yous say coffee!”
Naomi: “Say call me.”
Me: “Cawll me”
Leo: “Call me”
Naomi: “What do you put on spaghetti?”
Leo: “Sauce, pasta sauce, or marinara, anything we just don’t call it gravy.”
Michaela: “Then what do you put on your turkey at thanksgiving?”
Me: “That’s brown gravy.”
This is something I can say that happens to me on a day to day basis. People around me always want to hear the way I pronounce things, along with the different word variations I use. I assume its because the list of words that have an imaginary w in them for me is endless. Growing up, I picked up my “South Philly accent” from those around me and along the way picked up some “made-up” words. There are many words I say that have no meaning to some of the different cultured people around me. I never questioned the way I spoke, or the words I said until I was in a more culturally diverse school. By that time, there was no way I could change the way I tawlk.
As a child I attend preschool at Alphabet Academy, then went to A.S Jenks until I graduated in fourth grade. At Jenks I was with almost all of the same people that lived in my neighborhood, so the speech wasn’t different to what I heard at home. When I went to Meredith it was a little different, but it wasn’t that major. When I graduated Jenks, mostly everyone went to either G.A.M.P or Meredith so I was able to stay with some of the same people for almost 10 years. With all of us living in South Philly, we all took the same bus together and always hung out with each other. Having so many similar cultural backgrounds around me allowed for only the occasional person to be taken aback by the accent in which I spoke. When I came to SLA, it was different. There was a larger variety of people here compared to what I was used to at Meredith, so my accent was more noticeable. People that are close to me are used to how I am by now, but this year I am with a lot of new people.
As people get past my accent, they also start to notice the differences in my vocabulary versus theirs. As an Italian American, what I put on my macaroni is called gravy. My macaroni is not the same as “elbow macaroni” like used for Mac and Cheese. In my household and spread through my whole family, which is a lot of people, we use macaroni to basically represent any “pasta” that isn’t spaghetti. The red stuff on top of our spaghetti was always gravy, not sauce. Everyone I was around always did, so I thought that was the only way. It might not be the only way, but it sure is the right way! When something disgusts you, you skeeve it. I grew up all my life thinking this was a genuine word that everyone used.
My nan to me: “Nan, I made the macaroni’s you really like. You might need to put more gravy on them though.”
Me: “Okay nan I’ll be right in.”
* 30 seconds later *
Nan: “Come on nan, come and eat before it gets cold. I made cawfee for ya too.”
My pop: “Oh pop, sorry I starting drinking some of your coffee. I thought it was mine, but I only took a sip you’ll be fine. You don’t skeeve me or nothing right? You shouldn’t I’m your grandfather...”
Nan: “Oh Joe shut up, nobody ast you.”
Pop: “Stop with the atteetood!”
My nan might be my nan, but she also calls me nan. Same thing with my pop. Its just something they did growing up, and now we do as well. My nan is my maternal “grandma” and when people hear what I call my nan, they usually assume I have a nanny. My nanny is my nonna, and I proudly accept all the things my family does different as part of who I am in the world.
Sometimes when people hear the things that make me different from them, they change their view on who I am as a person and my capabilities of speech. Some people will listen to what I have to say and accept that as me. I grew up the same way my mom did, with traditions passed down from our ancestors who originally immigrated to america. I am proud of who I am and wouldn’t change what makes me, me. You can accept me the way I am, but it doesn’t mean you have to change the way you are, so I appreciate those people who understand that everyone is different.Everyone comes from a different background family. But then their are those people that try to push their ways on me as if I wanted to change myself for them.
When people point out my accent and how “South Philly” I am, I wear it as a badge of honor. When people finally understand that I’m not going to change my language for them tend to then pass judgement. They think that because I don’t want to change my Italian American dialects to please another language around me, I’m wrong. They assume that I don’t know how to speak proper english and use correct grammar. My favorite part about their ignorance is when I prove them wrong. Very often I form bonds with either teachers or my friends parents as well. I cannot count the times someone has said,
“Oh my god I forgot you're not a 30 year old women!”
Or my favorite, “After you walked away we couldnt stop talking about how you don’t sound like the average teenager from south philly.”
I’m not the only one that gets stereotyped for my accent, but the difference between me and others is that I will stand up for myself at all times. During class we had a bunch of different genre essays scattered on each table. The first essay I picked up was a personal essay written by an anonymous SLA graduate. Like me she struggled with the way she spoke after she had gotten a retainer and formed a lisp. The difference between us formed when after people started making fun of her and stereotyping her intelligence by the accent in which she spoke, she shut down. She stopped talking unless needed, and didn’t hang out with her family and friends because she was scared of the embarrassment. I don’t do that now when someone has something negative to say about my accent, nor will I ever.
I don’t see myself as a victim or take on the victim role, because I am not a victim. I say I’m not a victim in the sense that I’m going to just lay down and take it. Yes I am victimised and people may beat down on me because of the way I speak, but it is my job to stand up and prove them wrong. We are all equal individuals and no one is better than anyone because they way “wooder” instead of “warter”.
Anonymous Science Leadership Academy Alumni Personal Essay
Flossie Scalia (Nan)
Joseph Scalia (Pop)