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Raise your hand if you're from the Caribbean.

Raise your other hand if you've heard the phrase "Omg your accent is so cute!"

It's been about eight years since I first moved to the U.S. to start college. The culture shock of the initial experience is something that faded away with time. I'm used to driving on the right side of the road now. I can sleep in A/C. I've mastered my fear of driving by 18-wheelers.

You know what I haven't gotten used to though? Americans who make fun of or awkwardly focus the conversation on the way I speak.

The U.S. Virgin Islands might be Caribbean in every way, but we are used to hearing the American accent and most of us can mimic it very well. In school we were taught that our dialect is "improper" and that to speak "proper English" means to speak like an American. How many of us naturally speak to our loved ones is spoken down on as if it's somehow broken or inherently bad.

When I first moved to the mainland (United States) I thought I'd just speak in my dialect (referred to in this post as "accent.") That quickly stopped the minute I realized that many of my new American friends couldn't focus on our conversations without laughing or asking me to repeat myself. They either couldn't understand me, thought the way I spoke was funny, or wanted to admire this new accent they'd never heard.

I became frustrated and offended with the interactions.

Whether they meant to be offensive or not, their refusal to drop the subject or not continue to mock me when I asked them to made me resort to code switching. Code-switching describes a kind of assimilation of speech or demeanor in a setting foreign from your own in an effort to fit in or make interactions easier. For many people with "foreign" accents its a common thing to do in order not to attract attention to yourself. .

For many people, code-switching can become exhausting. Personally, it led to a deeply painful conflict with my identity. I already lived in a U.S. territory that had seen its culture merge and mix with the colonial power that owned it. I didn't want to lose who I was or be seen as a fake Virgin Islander for not speaking normally.

After a few years of living in the U.S. it hit me that my group of close friends were so unused to hearing my accent that they'd pause what they were doing if I ever switched into it (for example during phone calls from family.) Even my social media content and Youtube videos showed my code-switching versus speaking in my Crucian dialect. I didn't feel good about it. It didn't feel like me. I knew that it wasn't who I was or how I really spoke. I began to feel like there was a portion of myself I was hiding even from people I'd grown to love.

In 2019, I deliberately began code-switching less. I took to speaking in my dialect in all of my online videos. I catered my content to fit a mix of my Caribbean AND U.S. audience. And I begun solely speaking to my partner in my dialect so that he would grow accustomed to it. Now that I am aware of just how quickly code-switching can feel like a loss to people who speak with accents or in dialects, I want others to understand their impact in this conversation.

On behalf of all Caribbean people and all people who aren't American: please stop making a huge deal of the way that we speak. Please stop asking us to speak to you in our dialects or repeat words to you for your entertainment.

We don't just have "accents." Many of us speak in dialects. We have broken words and colloquialisms that we use with other people who will understand them and who have a deeper connection to them. We don't want to speak that way with you because our dialect isn't for you. It's a part of our culture. It's a part of who we are. We speak in our dialect to other people who know the dialect. It's something we share and something we value. It's sort of a sacred right of passage, if you will. And while we love that you are willing to learn about our cultures and celebrate certain things with us, our dialects will never be yours. Our experiences will never be yours in the same way the American experience could never truly be ours.

So stop asking us to "repeat ourselves."

Stop telling us that the way we speak and the way our ancestors spoke is "cute."

It's not cute.

It's not funny.

It's culture.

Featured Photo: Diamond Ritter (@noirediamonds)

by Sharimar Cruz

(Styled by @designsbyregal)

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The Life of a Code Switching Caribbean Woman

On behalf of all Caribbean people and all people who aren't American: please stop making a huge deal of the way that we speak.

Written by: J. Quin

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