American Assimilation and I
"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
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.
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!'
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.
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.
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
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!
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? :-)
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.
Books on American Assimilation
More Personal Experience Hubs by yours truly
- Why I Chose Children
Some fun points about children and why they're so special.
- Xena: My Warrior Puppy
A Hub about my new shih tzu and how I ended up getting a puppy even though I'm not allowed.
- Moving: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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