I’ve always joked I was a product of international relations – the relation in question being between my British mother and American father, whose love affair led to my birth in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Swept along by the whirlwind of my parents’ lives, the backdrop of my childhood cycled between these three countries, each cradling distinct aspects of my life and character.
England was the land of my closest relatives, to where my mum and I would hop over the pond to pay our familial dues. California was more a commercial nation of necessity – the place to buy goods and receive treatments we couldn’t find in Mexico. And our home, the sublime setting at the heart of my young mind, was always Puerto Vallarta – where the weather, landscape, cuisine, music and denizens all solaced me the moment we returned.
While this is undeniably a banal cliche, my clash of international influences inherently made me a foreigner to all. To the British, I was the obnoxious American – raucous, garish, cocky. In America, I became the overly polite Brit, purport to apathetic, sarcastic humor mixed with profuse utterances of ‘thank you’s’ and ‘sorry’s’ that irritated Americans. In Mexico, I was simply una gringita – a small fish in a sea of white tourists, regardless of my Mexican citizenship and local knowledge.
The ultimate palpable manifestation of my alien status was always my accent. My terribly idiosyncratic mix of multiple regional British accents, the relaxed Californian twang, and touches of Jaliscan Spanish that clung in the recesses of my mind, all melted into an inflection that was easily mistaken for multiple accents from around the world. I don’t have one accent – I have a virtual triad fabricating my own unique, bewildering sound.
Even after living in California for years, I still casually confuse simply by speaking. My British accent, gained primarily via osmosis listening to my mum, has stubbornly lingered in my vowels, vocal cadence, and word choices. Combine this with my slight speech impediment obstructing my annunciation, and I am virtually unintelligible to many. When I previously worked in a restaurant, I had to learn how to speak strictly American so our aged customers would understand me. I might as well have been talking Simlish if they heard me say water with my tall, elongated British vowels instead of the hard a’s and r’s Americans favor. So, for their ease, and better tips, I adapted.
However, in my everyday life, I have little control over my accent. Unless I dedicate considerable mental energy to analyzing every utterance, my accent meanders, switching almost every other word to whatever pronunciation my brain recalls in that moment. It sounds silly, it sounds fake, it makes no logical sense, I know. But, try I might, my mess of multiple pronunciations is my innate inflection, and is here to stay.
In truth, I’m not deluded enough to believe I’ve actually suffered due to my deluge of internationality. Having tri-citizenship is a blessing, an undeniable privilege more than anything. I have not, and never will be oppressed because I sound too British or too American. However, my accents and somewhat transient cultural upbringing did inevitably compound with my inherent neurodivergent eccentricity to make me conspicuous, easy prey to playground bullies. My accent was just another layer of oddity they pinpointed as different from the collective.
Oh, and bully they did. My elementary school years were consumed with taunting, obtrusive questions, and strangest of all: being hounded by peers clutching rudimentary phones demanding I say stereotypically British (or erroneously, Australian) words so they could be recorded and circulated for their own amusement. With age, this transitioned partly into accusations that I fake my accent for attention, but mostly just harmless mimicking and snarky jokes. However, what has continually remained consistent has been the inevitable, invasive question upon introduction of where I’m from – the answer to which only ever complicates the conversation further.
However, I know this is a harmless issue to have. Although I am a perpetual foreigner, I know my whiteness shields me from more venomous, racist xenophobia. My accent may accrue questions and occasional ridicule, but in the grand scheme of things, those are minuscule annoyances compared to what others must endure.
Considering these caveats I wrestle with concerning my international origin and intonation, I am still profoundly grateful for all the experiences it has granted me. Thanks to my parents, upbringing, and extended family reaching across essentially every continent, I savored a sample of what the wider world offers at a very young age. I am the inimitable creation of international fusion, and I only hope the future will hold more exploration for me and my confusing accent.