My American Accent

I first entered this world through the province of Laguna. I was raised around yayas who spoke Tagalog and Bisaya that sometimes I would catch on and my parents would be so amused when I would loudly bellow before the world: “Kaun na tayo!” or the famous “Ambut ko sa iyo!“. Yup, I was a superstar. My first language was Tagalog. Back in Sta. Rosa, the downstairs part of our home was a clinic where my dad, mom, lolo and lola would work (they were all doctors which makes everybody wonder why I didn’t follow in their footsteps) so from an early age I would be exposed to people from all walks of life, mostly the penniless. I’ve seen a kid being brought limp in the hands of several men with blood gushing out everywhere from head to toe. I remember hearing he fell off a tree somewhere. Then there were the classic men who came for circumcision, children check ups in mama’s office which I would usually infiltrate because her office was homey, and the incidents of ear-piercings by crazy teenage boys who screamed like girls when the gun touched their skin. English wasn’t a common language then. In fact, I believe I barely even heard it. (Unless my parents spoke to me in english because I honestly don’t remember. And even if they did, they certainly do not have the accent that led up to mine). All I know was I spoke Tagalog first. I was in the world of Filipino. Which makes the birth of my accent even more baffling.

I have been in the Philippines most of my life. Before Europe (January 2011), I have never even gone out of Asia. I was free in a vast cage and I didn’t mind. I assume I learned English in school, like everybody else. I don’t even remember when I started having this strange accent. I was a shy kid, see, so I didn’t speak much. All I know is when I was grade 5, my friend thought that when she heard me, I was whining. By grade 7, every time it was my turn to speak up the kids would quickly hush, just so they could hear the intonation that would escape my lips. I was a superstar for a whole other matter.

High school went by quickly and by then everybody already knew of my accent. Testimonials would consist of “She has a weird accent but I like it!” most of the time and when college came, I was instantly labeled as conyo. When I went out, I’d have locals asking if I lived in America. Just this afternoon my tito commented on how strong my accent was. I was talking loudly to my brother when the guy behind me blurts “parang nasa ibang bansa ako!” probably assuming I couldn’t understand. Funneh. It’s worse when I try to speak Filipino. People tell me I shouldn’t bother at all because I just ruin it and my accent defeats the purpose of speaking Filipino in the first place. I asked my dad, “pop, did my accent get worse when I came from Europe?” He told me “no. You just sound like you came from abroad.” “But I had my accent BEFORE I went abroad! I lived in the Philippines my whole life!” “That’s the weird thing!” he laughs.

I don’t know where I got this accent of mine. I just like to call it the Alexis Accent. It’s not exactly American although I had Americans ask me where from America I was, I’ve had Canadians mistake me for Canadian, Australians asserting I’m Australian, and Filipinos presuming I was born in England. It is a shame, no doubt, but it’s just one of the things that make me me. I didn’t grow up with this accent, it developed along the way. It is untraceable yet unquestionable: you can’t have the Alexis Accent without the Alexis. The accent is SO here to stay.

Although, it makes me question how kids these days develop their language so strongly and differently from the mild environment they were raised. We have completely homegrown kids that speak better english than they do filipino. I myself am one of them and I wonder all the same. It seems colonial mentality will continue to live in the minds of the Filipinos for an indefinite time. Or is there something more we’re missing? Is the birth of an accent so simple as being submerged in the kind of background that leads up to it? Or is it more complex than we thought we knew? And the most important question of all: should this lead to any worry in the midst of the future Filipino?

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