Aelya Salman / Silhouette Staff
Sometimes (not often enough for me to worry about it constantly but not seldom enough for it to go unnoticed by me) when I’m speaking in English, especially if I’m excited or talking fast, I’ll replace a W with a V or my “neutral accent” will slip up and one word will sound heavier than the other. Sometimes (again, not often enough for it to plague me) I sound, even if only subtly, like a foreigner.
I’ve been teased about it before even though the teasing was in good humour from a person I’m very close to.
It didn’t bother me too much then and in some ways it doesn’t bother me much now, but the fact that something like that was given attention makes my cheeks flush both with anger and embarrassment.
Embarrassment because it’s a natural reaction to anything that calls attention to you in a way you’re not entirely comfortable with. Embarrassment because, well, why did it even happen? I’ve been speaking English my whole life.
I watched Hollywood flickers and Nickelodeon as a kid. Damn it, I had Titanic memorized before the age of ten. Why do I (sometimes) have an accent? “Fobs” have accents. “Confused” people have accents. People who don’t know how to use the TTC or people who don’t adhere to Western cultural signifiers (such as dress) have accents. I’m none of “those” people.
Anger because it shouldn’t matter. I speak English at a level that’s higher than many, read at a pace and absorb at a rate that’s gifted.
I speak English as well as speaking Urdu and English isn’t even my mother tongue. British Christians taught me English. Golden Books and Jack Nicholson taught me English. My grandparents and my cousins and my parents taught me Urdu. I see only my parents now and only for less than a quarter of the day. It shouldn’t matter that my “accent” shows sometimes or that I say a word funny.
I can read and write and speak and sing and cry in English. I can read and speak and sometimes write and can’t sing and always cry in Urdu. As a result of numerous circumstances, as well as being entangled within a community that engages in self-loathing to an appalling degree, I’ve had to be more English than Urdu.
I’m angry because the people who have (even though it was harmless) teased me about my slip-ups are Canadian born and bred. Or they don’t know their mother tongues. Or they too, hate themselves. And I don’t need that. I don’t need your fucking negativity when it comes to figuring myself out, when it comes to conversing with my grandmother over the phone, when it comes to being all that I am capable of being.
I’m angry because a Francophile speaking abhorrent English is apparently a hell of a lot cuter than my uncle who speaks great English with his Pakistani accent. I’m angry because this happens to South Asians all the fucking time. You’re not English enough, you’re not assimilated enough and you’re not enough for anything – not even your own culture.
So while I navigate this vast grey area between Here and There, I have zero tolerance for self-aggrandizing assholes who probably couldn’t out-write, out-speak, or out-perform me in either language anyway.