I recall with shame squandering the better part of my youth learning how to shed my Cuban coat to conceal my otherness. I knew I couldn’t change my olive complexion or hide my high check bones, pronounced jaw line, large dark eyes, and wavy, black hair that outed me as some kind of exotic Spanish gypsy amid the blue-eyed, pink-skinned Americanos.
Instead I practiced my English every day after school for hours in front of a mirror in a slow and laborious effort to get rid of my accent. My accent was to blame. It made anyone who heard me speak dismiss me as a dumb, lazy immigrant who hadn’t even made an effort to learn the language of the country that had granted her asylum. I learned very quickly that having a foreign accent was the equivalent of being invisible. No one listened. No one cared what I had to say. They pretended I wasn’t there, which in many ways meant that I wasn’t.
Everything around me pointed to the fact that changing my speech patterns was step one in the critical process of assimilation for foreigners—it goes without saying that as an outsider, if you don’t speak the language you might as well not exist.
There were endless weekends spent glued to the tube mimicking reruns of The Young and the Restless. The gringa actresses in Hollywood soap operas all had the gentle and non-ethnic demeanor I was determined to assume to become a proper Americanita. So, with a heavy heart, I abandoned my favorite Mexican telenovelas. If I was going to make it in the US of A, I had to say goodbye to the likes of Corazon Salvaje, Los Ricos Tambien Lloran, Tú o Nadie, De Pura Sangre, y El Derecho de Nacer. I didn’t have a favorite. I loved them all, and was a sucker for any featuring the queen of telenovelas, Veronica Castro. But, I drew a line and refused to give up my episodes of ¡Qué Pasa USA!Continue reading “No “Otherness” Allowed”