Why It Bothers Me When You Compliment My English

Let’s start with some background. My father is a native Colombian, and my mom is a native Puerto Rican. Moreover, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and it’s where I still reside when I’m not in college. Although I do recognize my Colombian roots (and would love to visit some day to get more in touch with them), I consider myself Boricua de pura cepa or a thousand percent Puerto Rican (I hope you sense the pride).

I attended a primarily North American school in Puerto Rico for ten years where most teachers were from the States and where English was the only language allowed to be spoken out of Spanish class. (We also had to wear skirts below our calves, and girls and boys had to be 6 inches away from each other among other rules that had to be strictly followed. Yes, what a calvary of a school. Perhaps, I’ll write more on this some other time.)

In other words, I learned English at a young age and because I learned it with all native English speakers, I didn’t quite learn it with much of an accent (although I do get one sometimes, but you’ll have to get me angry to hear it and that’s not something I would recommend you to do).

“Why would it bother you when someone says you don’t have an accent or that you speak English well?” you might ask.

I’ll admit. It didn’t at first. I was flattered every time people said I spoke such great English without any accent. However, the “compliments” started building up, and I started realizing that they weren’t really compliments. They were nothing more than a mere example of stereotyping in a faint disguise. 

“You speak English so well. When did you move to the United States?” or “Wait, so why is it that you are able to speak so well if you don’t live here?” and let’s not forget “You speak very good English for a Puerto Rican!”

Last time I checked Latinos don’t suffer from a condition that have disabled them from learning English or any other language correctly. Yes, it IS possible for people who aren’t natives in a language to learn it and speak it well. Shocker!!! There is something called being smart, and just because I’m Puerto Rican doesn’t mean that God skipped me or other Latino when He was giving out the smart genes #justsaying.

As for the accent, we’re speaking another language other than our native one, so WHO CARES if we have a little or a lot of it?! My best friend who is also Latina speaks good English but has a stronger accent. Though she may not notice, I do see when people look at her with a condescending stare when she speaks. We’re not less smart because we might have an accent, and it sure doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t know the language well-enough just because we might happen to pronounce things differently.

On the other hand, people shouldn’t expect me to have an accent when I say I’m from Puerto Rico. NEWSFLASH: Not all Latinas have to sound like the Latina group from Orange Is The New Black. Expecting such a thing is straight-out stereotyping (sorry-not-sorry that I also don’t fit into what you think Puerto Ricans should look like). There is such a thing as obtaining a good education and being smart as mentioned before. You know, because not all Latinos come from poor and uneducated backgrounds.

Let me clear things up. I’m not saying people whose native language is not English could happen to master in the language. We all make mistakes, even those who are native English speakers do so quite frequently. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be surprised if you do encounter someone that doesn’t necessarily have an accent. Furthermore, you shouldn’t have a condescending attitude to those that do. Please, don’t let media, society, or even how you’ve been brought up to shape how Latinas and Latinos are supposed to sound (or act or look).

I’m aware this post can be somewhat controversial. I don’t intend to speak for every Latino or Latina out there and recognize that not everyone has to feel the same way as I do. This is a very personal opinion on the matter, but a matter that I’ve waited too long to get out of my chest.

I’m raising my voice, because I’m tired of having other people question my education, background, and talents based on the way I speak. I shouldn’t have to give excuses such as “I went to a good school” or “I think I’m just good with languages” because I shouldn’t have to explain myself for speaking “as good as” the person talking to me. I’m done feeding someone else’s ignorance and false superiority. I refuse to.

So please, don’t tell me my English is as good as yours or that you can’t believe I don’t have an accent … unless, of course, you want a piece of my mind.

Quedan advertidos. You’ve been warned.


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