American Assimilation and I

Melting-pot by ~s0s2 (DeviantART)
Melting-pot by ~s0s2 (DeviantART)

"The mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation." - William McKinley

"A lot of people ask for assimilation. Assimilation means that you forget about your heritage." - Thu Nguyen

"To be assimilated is to absorb and integrate (people, ideas, or culture) into a wider society or culture." -Oxford Dictionary

11 Years!

This July (2010), my mother and I celebrated our 11th Anniversary of being in these the United States of America. We didn't make a big deal out of it - not as much excitement as the 10th year. Now when the anniversary comes around it's like: 'You know what today is?' 'Yeah' 'Okay, then. Just checking.' 'Oh, Happy Anniversary by the way... is that what I'm supposed to say?'

So obviously it's not a big deal anymore.

Public Domain Image
Public Domain Image
"Living Planet" by *Bakenius (DeviantART)
"Living Planet" by *Bakenius (DeviantART)

The Transition

In July of '99, my mother and I set sail for the land of opportunity. Well, we didn't literally 'set sail' - our boat had wings and soared through the clouds... for 5 hours! For a 7-year-old, 5 hours of sitting still in an airplane is torture. Boring is an understatement! I slept most of the time though and when I was awake I was near to tears from the painful pressure and popping sensations in my ears - from the altitude.

I was seven, keep that in mind. In Trinidad I was in Standard 2 in Primary School (which seems to equal to Grade 3 in the American elementary schools). I don't remember whether I had to take a placement test or not but I was informed by my American principal that I was supposed to be in the 4th Grade. However, I was 'too little' for the 4th grade therefore placed in the 3rd Grade.

3rd Grade was ridiculously easy for me. Seriously. I already knew how to write in script, I loved to read any way so I was already into novels and such and... I was just bored really. Still, I survived.

Moving along. Attending school in America was a CULTURAL SHOCK. I was in awe by the way school children behaved. My first day in class I noticed right away how the children sat slouched in their chairs as opposed to sitting upright, backs straight, feet flat on the ground and hands clasped a top the desk. When the teacher called on a student, the child was actually allowed to say 'huh?'

No 'Yes, Mrs. Coleman?' No standing up to address the teacher? It was oh so very strange. Like I was on a different planet.

Little Trini Gyul

Allow me to explain the title of this section to you. Little = obviously, I was a small child. Trini = an abbreviation of Trinidadian (my ethnicity).Gyul = a dialectal pronunciation of girl.

Now that I got that out of the way, I'll continue.

Here's the obvious difference between the American 'kids' and me (I hated using the word 'kid' because A KID IS A BABY GOAT!) But I digress... The obvious difference between those KIDS and me - who most certainly was NOT a kid, but a child - was the accent. Yes, the accent. The way I spoke versus the way they spoke.

Language barrier? No. Accent barrier. People didn't listen to what I said; they listened to how I said it. That was very frustrating. Then there was the use of slang. Someone told me that something I drew was 'fly.' What in the world? I wanted to protest: 'I didn't draw a fly! It's a horse.' As it turns out, 'fly' meant 'cool', 'hip,' 'trendy', 'awesome.' Then why didn't he just say so?

The American dialect is very different from the Trinidadian dialect and the kids in my class soon realised that. I was being picked on, especially since I was so small and the new girl, and I decided to finally stand up for myself. I said, 'Doh make me cuff you!'

Can you imagine the laughter I got out of that threat? It obviously wasn't a threat but I continued in my attempted violence. 'I'll box you, yuh know? Ah serious!'

More laughter.

I couldn't understand. Cuffing and boxing someone was not a matter to be laughed about. In case you're not familiar with those terms, I'll translate it the way I should have said it then. 'Don't make me punch you [in your face, might I add].' Why didn't someone tell me?

On my very first spelling test, I got three words wrong and a horrible score of 70 percent. The words were color, favorite and behavior. My spellings were colour, favourite and behaviour (we spell our words based on British language standard). I quickly learned to eliminate the U's in those words but later on I had to learn to spell center (centre) and other similar words. Then there's also check vs. cheque. My head was spinning.

(From HandWritingForKids.com)
(From HandWritingForKids.com)

Kim-BURR-lee

Being 7 years old, picking up the American accent was a piece of cake. I started with the simple pronunciation of my name. People would ask my name and I'd say 'Kim-ba-lee.' Finally, after repeating my name several times and getting giggles out of kids, or your-accent-is-so-adorable comments from adults, I finally perfected the "correct" pronunciation.

Some lady in school asked me, 'What's your name, sweetie?' I responded with my accent and had to repeat it twice before the lady said, 'Ohhhh, Kim-burr-lee.' That's when I almost shouted, 'Yes, Kim-BURR-lee!' Overpronunciating the 'er' syllable so she got the hint. 'Kimberly,' I repeated, lessening the er sound - a compromise between the American and Trini accent.

The American Girl Magazine used to be my favourite (Public Domain Image)
The American Girl Magazine used to be my favourite (Public Domain Image)

I'm NOT American

From that moment, I began losing my native accent, but only among my friends. I went from sounding Trinidadian, to slightly Trinidadian, then to slightly British, then to American.

I was pretty proud of my American accent until one of my aunties visited me a couple of years later and called me American. The way she said it sounded like an insult so I was thoroughly offended. I started speaking in a strong Trini accent for a little while but then I spent most of my time in school so I was utilizing the new American accent the most.

It was very confusing and a little frustrating at times. My native accent would slip out during the most awkward moments - it still does from time to time - and then people would ask, 'Where are you from?'

In the year of our fourth or fifth anniversary of being in America, that same Aunt who had offended me, returned for another visit. She told me, 'Jus' now you'll really be American. Soon you'll be livin' here longa than yuh live in Trinidad."

That made me so sad. You wouldn't believe it. Not that I wanted to go back to Trinidad but I felt like I was losing some part of me, an important part of me. I thought about that long and hard and I didn't want that seventh year to come.

So while I was 'assimilated' and 'americanized' in a sense, I was beginning to grieve the native part of me. I really wanted to get back my accent

Technically Trinidad spelling is British spelling (Public Domain Image)
Technically Trinidad spelling is British spelling (Public Domain Image)

Resisting American Spelling

High school was the beginning of the American-Trinidadian Revolution - at least inside of me! In High School I definitely rebelled against 'assimilation' when it came to spelling and such. I wanted my word spellings back. Color needed it's U, center needed to switch the E and the R. I was serious about it too!

I didn't care if I got in trouble for spelling the words 'wrong'! I Was gonna spell it how I wanted to spell it and no one was going to stop me. Then again... I kept forgetting that I was supposed to rebel. *sigh* 

All that talk and no action. It was terrible. Every time I would spell color without the U, I had to erase it or cross it out. I was going to re-train myself if it took up all the paper I had! 

Public Domain Image
Public Domain Image

I'm a Professional Speller Now... NOT!

Eventually, I made a line between writing for school and writing for myself. Now I can easily switch back and forth between using the British standard spelling and American spelling. It's easy - yeah right! You may have noticed in some of my Hubs some words are spelt (spelled) in British standard spelling and others are not.

I'm pretty sure I've written the word 'realise' and 'realize' in the same Hub before. Or maybe I wrote 'center' and then a different word like 'behaviour' (adding the U) in the same paragraph. What can I say? :-)

George Masons Speech Accent Archive
George Masons Speech Accent Archive

My Unpredictable Accent

To wrap up this Hub, assimilation can be painfully difficult for some people and ridiculously simple for others. I believe that the older one starts being assimilated into a culture, the more difficult it becomes. I was only seven when I was exposed to American culture and I've been living here non-stop for 11 years so... My accent is GONE, to say the least.

If I'm around a lot of family for a long period of time, my accent naturally returns - that's when I cheer 'yes! I still got it!' Then there are times when my accent would randomly slip out and confuse the person I'm talking to.

Since a hobby of mine is studying foreign accents, I'm pretty good at imitation. As I mentioned in a previous Hub, I can imitate the British and Australian accent pretty well (I'm still working on the Kiwi - New Zealand - accent). Why am I telling you this? Well, sometimes those accents slip out into my speech too! It's the most bizarre thing! I never had those accents so why would they slip out into my daily speech?

So, do I have an American accent? Absolutely not. I have the accent of a Trinidadian-Australian-New Zealand-American girl! Sometimes I'm surprised by the pronunciations that come out of my own mouth. Sometimes I say something and then I think, 'What in the world kinda accent was that?' It's funny actually. You have to laugh at your own expense sometimes.

I wonder if I'm doomed to forever constantly switch my accents or will I eventually stick to one. And which one will it be? Hmm... I guess I'll have to wait and see.

More by this Author


Comments 33 comments

CMCastro profile image

CMCastro 6 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

Hello Kalto, I can relate to what you're going through, watching my young cousins come to the US from the Philippines with adapting similarly to what you experienced. Children always don't have things explained to them before the experience. It is Unique that you have two cultures! I love having two cultures in my family too.


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Hi CM,

I love learning about new cultures. It's exciting. I never thought of having two cultures as 'unique' before so thanks for that. Thanks for reading and for commenting!

-K. Alto


Elvis 6 years ago

Kimberly, that was Awesome, keep it up. Seems like just yesterdy when you guys were getting ready to leave Trinidad. Wow...


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Hi, Uncle Elvis... I'm just assuming that is your comment. If it isn't I'll be only a little embarrassed. :-) I'm guessing your saw the link on FB. Thanks for coming by, reading and commenting!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

Amazing story - and welcome (belatedly) to our country! I was raised by my grandmother who came over from Denmark sometime in the very early 1900's and her story was remarkable although times were certainly different. I do so admire folks though who have the courage to relocate to another country and then make it work! Congratulations on a job well done.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 6 years ago from Northern, California

The nature of humans is a beautifully amazing thing. To win the place you now call home and find conquest after unloading the U-haul places you among those brave enough to dare to venture. Welcome, and my hope for you is continued success and a prosperous future path.

~Always choose love~

K9


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Hello, akirchner. Thanks for the belated welcome. Oh yes, the 1900's must have certainly been a different time. Was immigration issues greater then or now?

Anyway, thanks again!

K9, thanks for stopping by to read and comment. Thanks for the welcome also and the good wishes. I appreciate it.

-K. Alto


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

I really enjoyed every word of this hub. The part on accents got me thinkin'. I ,too, don't want to lose my accent.(because around here,it's not an accent...)

I love to talk with a person's whose accent is different from the deep south where I live. My favorites in the USA thus far are Maine, Boston, and New Jersey. Then there are people who like to hear our deep south southern drawl.In the deep south, we sometimes leave off ending syllables or sounds ,or just change it completely!(no=naw, sure =shor,your=yo (runnin',talkin',drinkin')

I moved to TN for 3 years , and I still at times say things like , Dahlen=darling hongry=hungry.

Well I'll stop my rambling. I see a lot of typos, but I'm too lazy to correct 'em!


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Haha. I'm glad you enjoyed my Hub, bayoulady. I like the southern drawl too. It makes for a kind of mysterious person, even at times alluring or even just plain 'cool.'I know many people with deep souhern accent and they sound so 'musical' when they speak.

I recently found outthat an aquaintence of mine is from somewhere down south. Her brother or someone was visiting for the week so her accent came back. It was the coolest thing...

See? I ramble too. No worries! As for typos, oh well! I make them all the time.

Thanks for commenting!


John B Badd profile image

John B Badd 6 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Great hub Kim, I am a terrible speller so I do not notice most spelling differences if they are phonetically correct. The world has changed so much since I was in high school (class of '93) that you are probably better adjusted for the times in America than I am ;)

Allow me to welcome you to America (yeah I know I'm 11 years late) and wish you a happy anniversary.


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Hahaha, thanks, John. High school class of '93...? cool, I was 2 years old! :-) Oh and I accept your belated welcome. :) Thanks!


parrster profile image

parrster 6 years ago from Oz

Neat hub. My experience is not the same but along a parallel; I married an immigrant. Myself, being born in the UK, raised in NZ and now living in Australia, my English was lazy and sullied by too much mixed idiom. My wife on the other hand learnt English from the age of 14, perfectly I might add, and although she mispronounces a few things, her grasp of how things should sound is better than my own. Her grammer is also spot on.

I laughed at your rebel spelling. I can only imagine your accent as I don't believe I've met anyone from Trindad. Voted up.


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Wow, you have quite an interesting experience as well, parrster. I only DREAM of going to the places you have lived. I really want to go to New Zealand now for some reason... Anyway, about the Trinidadian accent, I can't really describe it to you since it all depends which region of Trinidad the person is from.

I CAN tell you that some Trinidadians sound Jamaican, since most people are familiar with the Jamaican accent. My family, however, has a different kind of Trini accent. That's the best I can explain.

Thanks for commenting!


Polly C profile image

Polly C 6 years ago from UK

Hi Kimberly, I loved this hub, you described your move from Trinidad to the US perfectly. I can almost imagine you 11 years ago as a little girl. As someone who has never been to either country I am quite fascinated by your story.

And don't listen...the correct spellings are colour and favourite, no doubt about it!!


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

HAHA! Thanks Polly! I'm not struggling about the colour/favourite/demeanour issue anymore... I always forget about realise/apologise and all that... my UK/Trinidadian spell check doesn't rule out realize and apologize... I'll get it eventually.

Thanks!!! I'm glad you enjoyed my story.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

Hi K! (Do you mean if I just call you K? I don't type all that fast!) I think I morn the loss of your Trinidadian - or Trini - more than you do. Such a beautiful accent. Oddly, though I am an American, my accent history is not all that different than your own, from the South to Oklahoma, to St. Louis, to Chicago, to New York. I picked up accents all along the way, and in acting school I was taught stage standard, which many mistake for British. As the topper, I also studied accents and can do a ton of them, having learned to read, write, and speak phonetically. In Oklahoma, they said I talked "fast as lightnin'", and after New York, my relatives in Memphis said, "You sound just like a Yankee." Yeah, with a British lilt. I found your story amusing and vastly entertaining. Thanks!


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

K is perfectly fine, Christoph! Oh so you're familiar with the Trini accent, are you? Wonderful! Your speech-accent history DOES sound similar to mine. Wow, you've really been all over the USA! That's awesome.

Thanks for commenting!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

I tink I'm familyuh. De odders, dey run dey mouth. I tink de way yuh talk ranks yuh among de best. De colourful words, de antics and de accent create a whole language dat has stood de test of time. De way yuh express yuhselves and de way yuh converse is truly an art.

WahLah!


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

A-A! You really got it, Chris. I'm impressed. (applause)... Very, very impressive. Now if only I can HEAR you say all-ah dat yuh jus' say. Way-sah! hahaha. Thanks for giving me a good laugh!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

I can't follow dat, guhl. I could say all-ah dat I jus say, but I'm all Trinied out, don yuh know.

Actually, I could do this all day! In fact, I'll probably be talking like this all week.


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Hahaha! I can only imagine!


marvalousnj profile image

marvalousnj 6 years ago from Central Jersey USA

Kalto, this was beautiful......truly enjoyable. You are indeed a great writer!!!


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Thanks, Marvalous!


CamelotUK profile image

CamelotUK 6 years ago from Bristol UK

I don't really understand ?

There is English (from England) and American English which is a bastardisation of the English language. Thai is from Thailand, German from Germany, Russian from Russia etc. etc.


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Hello CamelotUK. Um... well, try moving from one country that uses one dialect of English to another. It's like speaking a totally different language at first. It's mainly about the accent and about the "slang."


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 6 years ago

Accents have always amazed me. You raise some excellent points in here about how assimilation can effect self esteem. I'm curious, would anyone from Trinidad be ahead in school if they moved to the United States, or are you just brilliant? :-)

I have enjoyed learning more about you. Thanks!


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Accents have always amazed me too! I believed I had a Trinidadian accent but my mother just reminded me that I've always had a unique sort of accent (well everyone's accent is unique but... you know!). British pronunciations slip out in my speech sometimes. It's so strange.

I think that most people from a Trinidadian school system will be slightly ahead of US standard. (Of course I've been here for 11 years now so things could have changed).

Thanks for reading!


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 6 years ago

I find it interesting that I live in the part of the country where people have been said to have NO accent. Is that even possible, to not have an accent? :(


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Nope, it's not possible to have no accent. Because then "no accent" IS an accent... haha. That didn't make sense. Sorry.


kenzy 5 years ago

i like this essay very will and is very interesting .


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 5 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Why, thank you, Kenzy!

K. Alto


John 5 years ago

I in de US and I move here when u was 13. And now i is 15. And yea if yuh respond on this I go rite more but I doh wah to waste my time write ting


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 5 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA Author

Lol. Are you a Trini?

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