200026625-001“Get back on the boat,” is what they used to tell me. “Why do you speak like that?” is what they used to ask me. I was in the 5th grade and all I could remember was coming home every day and crying. For an 11 year old girl, acceptance is very important. To be scrutinized every day for a dialect I couldn’t control was almost unbearable. Both of my parents were born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. My brother and I were the first generation to be born in the United States. Growing up, my house WAS Trinidad. From the music, to the food, to the sing song accent. I knew I was American, but I loved my Trinidadian culture and I identified with it the most; largely because everyone I encountered up until middle school had a West Indian background as well. To this day, people still don’t believe I was born in Brooklyn, New York because my dialect is so strong. It was a badge of honor when I was younger because though I was born in the “states” it was the worst thing in the world to be called a “yankee”. I did my best to stay far away from any association with that name.

This was until middle school. I was picked on and laughed at almost every day for the way I spoke. I used proper English, but I just had an accent. I was a very strong reader when I was younger and I enjoyed volunteering to read out loud in class. The teasing got so bad to the point I stopped raising my hand to read because my classmates would complain about the immigrant always being chosen to read out loud with my funny voice.

In an attempt to assimilate, I begged my mother to get me a speech tutor. She did and I was taught how to say “three” instead of “tree”. I stopped saying “Whas de scene” and began saying “What’s up”. I shortened my vowels and even adjusted my voice to sound more “American”. The teasing decreased, but now instead of making fun of my accent, it was my love for soca and bright colors. It was even a struggle to subdue my accent because it was all I knew growing up and now I had to suppress it.

That same summer I went to Trinidad to visit my family and then it happened. My cousins called me the dreaded word…”yankee”. I was devastated to say the least. I immediately dashed away everything I learned from my speech tutor and reverted back to my sweet dialect. This, again, was not good enough. My cousins began to make fun of me for living in America and accused me of being a “fake Trini”.

As I got older I realized that I couldn’t please everyone. I could only be true to myself. I am an American/Trinidadian. Yes I speak with an accent, but it is just extra seasoning for the flavor of personality. Once I reached my senior year of high school, I no longer hid my accent and everyone started to call me “sexy Trini” and I loved it. I knew who I was and was proud of it. I articulated myself just as clear as the next person and I realized my accent only added to my personality. Today, my accent is one of the things my friends love about me. I’m the “Trini gyal” and every time they call me that I respond with a big smile.

Yes, I know how to turn it on and off, but it is no longer a struggle. Sometimes I sound like a “yankee” and sometimes I sound like a Trini. This is because both of these cultures make up who I am. I feel privileged to be able to share the richness of both cultures and I will NEVER be ashamed of either one again.

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  • Nica

    Very good article. I can totally relate. I was born in Jamaica, came here as a child. I went through the same exact thing. Now, I have a daughter, I feel bad for her, cause her father is from Guyana and me being from Jamaica. She spends time in both places, and already she is being teased by our relatives.

  • Anne

    Most trinidadians have to learn a new culture in The United States, American are strict as parents are taught how to discipline their child without beating or threatening the child. A child is expected do do cerain tasks according to age and parents are encouraged to help their children as education plays great importance. America teaches that our actions have consequences and rewards the good. Some Trinidadians will ask Americans for money outright as they believe there is gold on the street. The fact is that Americans work hard for their money in brutal weather. Trinidadians living America have more discipline and rarely associate with other lazy Trinidadians.

  • Gigi

    I can relate my parents are from two different places jamaica n trinidad both in the Caribbean however I relate more to my trini roots bc I grew up in Brooklyn were their is a wide range of west Indians,plus my household was only trini. I love everything trini. My cousins on my father side cannot understand why, sorry, but I luv my Soca over dancehall.

  • I can very much relate to your article. My grandparents and parents were both born and raised in Trinidad; I, on the other hand, was born in New Jersey but grew up fully immersed in the Trinidadian culture. I speak “yankee” at school and work but get my full Trini on at home or when visiting relatives. It’s sad because I want to be my true self, Trini, all of the time but I know that I can’t.

  • Munchies

    Finally! I feel better about life now.
    My parents are from Trinidad and both my siblings and I were born and raised in America. I really do wish to visit someday and I absolutely love the way my parents raised us- although we are American, we keep the Trini lifestyle strong in our household. I do agree that the worst thing is to be called a yankee- I’ve heard that from relatives many times, and boy does it hurt. I do realize that I cannot please anyone but myself, and as long as I’m happy with how my life has been lived, then everything is fine :)
    I’m glad I read this.