"Why don't you speak Spanish in this house boy?" My father said for the seventh time today...in Spanish. "If you can understand my english, then why should I speak Spanish if I prefer speaking English?" I replied. He did not say anything after that. He hated it when his kids spoke to him in English then. Since we were "born Spanish" he wanted us to speak Spanish. He especially hated when we would use English slang around him. This whole language problem caused tension in the house for about half a year. Whenever we were at his friend's houses and spoke English, I could tell by his facial expressions that he was embarrassed that his friend's kids had no problems with speaking Spanish but we did. "Why don't you repeat that in Spanish?" He would ask. Me and my sisters all thought the way he acted was so ridiculous. But it kept on going for almost half a year. It also only began to get worse after some time.
"You know what...I don't care anymore" he said randomly one day in the car. "You guys want to speak your language then go ahead." To my father, being able to speak perfect Spanish makes us the “perfect” Puerto Ricans, he thought that if every Puerto Rican he knew could speak great Spanish, then we as his kids should be able to as well. I felt relieved about that but it was just the beginning of my problems with the way I talk. I started talking more and more like the people I hung around. I began using way too much slang and that wasn't just a problem for my dad but it was a problem for some of my teachers at school as well. One day, fifth grade, I had a presentation to do on a project about grizzly bears. "Your voice was too low and I could not understand some of the words you were using...what is 'trynna'?" My fifth grade teacher, Ms. Schuler, said right after she told me I failed my presentation. I honestly felt like she was being racist for grading me on the way I spoke...it was a science presentation. Other students were surprised because they thought that I had one of the most well presented project. I didn't feel like talking for the rest of the day because I felt embarrassed. The way I speak is one of the main things that shape me so why is it a problem with other people? I have an A in every class so why is the way I speak so bad? I had so much hate for my teacher that day. Since my mother were together at the time, all I could do was go home and complain to her.
"I tried to tell you that your 'friends' are bad influences" my mother said. I didn't think so though. They were are my "brothers." Even to this day they are. “Pshh, she trippin’ bro. She actin’ like I be smokin’ bud or something,” my friend Derrick said after I told him. I eventually got over it and ended up having no problems with the way I talked till I got to seventh grade. Science class. The teacher Mr. Dukulah, you might recognize him as the teacher who was prosecuted for sexually abusing a family member for eight years. His speech was no better than anybody's speech in the class, actually the school. He had a really strong African accent and sounded just like the one comedian Michael Blackson but he felt as if he spoke perfectly fine. He would even judge the way we talked. That class was difficult for everyone because he thought the way everyone was speaking was incorrect. People hated him. When we heard that he was arrested everyone was shocked and sort of thought that it was funny. People use to say he was a rapist because of the way he use to look at the girls in class. He would even make them do unnecessary things that they did not want to do. So it was ironic that he was charged with rape. Everyone failed most of their presentations because of what he thought was “good speech”. He taught in Africa a couple years before he came to the middle school I attended so he was accustomed to people having strong African accents. It is like the world is separated by languages.
I not only have have been in bad situations because of the way I speak though. In eight grade I won a poetry contest because of my speech:
"Am I really good at this or is the truth untold ?
Either way ya fear shouldn't deny ya goals
Always heard first sight shouldn't defy ya goals
But if often times I'm right then sorry that's the way it goes
Say if time froze would you spend the time to right ya wrongs..."
Everyone in the lunchroom, snapping as I "spit" the poem like a rap. Afterwards I had people coming up to me like "yo the way you said that one line made the whole thing crazy!" I felt great because for once, the way I spoke was a good thing...people began to like it because supposedly it had "style".
Speeches around the world are all so different though and they can be a good thing or a bad thing. For example, for certain men a woman with a certain accent could be the perfect wife. For a movie director, an actor with a specific accent could be a star. But for a national or worldwide company, not being able to speak “proper” could be what gives them bad reviews. It things like this that make language and speech a blessing and a curse.
In 'If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?' by James Baldwin, he says "Language, also, far more dubiously, is meant to define...". He means a completely different thing but to me this quote is very critical to what I am explaining in this essay. Language is meant to define and to translate, not a way to show class or intelegence. For example, in my poem, people did not really care how I was saying the words. Yes my accent supposedly made it "crazier" but people cared more about what I was saying than the way I said it. The world does not understand that everyone speaks differently. To some people from different countries, the way we speak English could be completely differentfrom the way they do.
The north and the south are split with accents just like the east and the west. Language and accents could be good and bad depending on where you are located. But the big question is: was there or is there a “correct” accent somewhere out in the world or will was the world always separated because of speech? I have experienced speech prejudice in both good and bad ways and it is reasons and questions like this that make language and speech such a mystery...almost like a story that has not been fully told.