photo: Paulina Rojas

Unlike some of the children of Dominican immigrants born and raised in the United States, my accent gives not a hint at my American upbringing. Even my grandmother would tell me that I speak as if I had been born and raised on the island. Perhaps the strength of my accent can be attributed to my love of Juan Luis Guerra and Milly Quezada, or because I grew up in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in New York City. Either way my Spanish accent is unapologetically Dominican.

It is the accent native to the country's central Cibao Valley region, where my parents and grandparents where born. When I was attending college in Houston, I hated it when my non-Dominican Latino friends couldn't quite understand the way I spoke Spanish. 

I longed to fit in with everyone else. I longed to find another Dominican person on campus who would understand my soft spot for the word vaina someone who knew what I meant at all times.

Alas, that day never came, but the moment when I became proud of my accent did. 

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In college, I decided to minor in Spanish, as part of me hoped to "refine" the way I spoke. Little did I know that part of the curriculum was a public speaking class, which taught me more than I had signed up for. Our professor, who spoke with a thick Argentine accent, told us early on that while we all had different accents it didn’t mean that one version of Spanish was better than another, they were just different. 

Around that same time I started to research the roots of Dominican Spanish. I learned that the country was largely settled by people from the south of Spain and the Canary Islands. The Spanish spoken there is different from the Spanish spoken in other parts of the country such as Madrid. I also learned more about the influence of African and Taino (indigenous) languages into what is spoken today by Dominicans. These discoveries helped boost my sense of pride in the way I speak. 

Although I live many miles away from the Dominican Republic and have access to resources that many Dominicans living on the island don't, my accent is a one-way ticket there. It instantly transports me to the beaches of Sosúa and to el monumento. 

My accent is quiet afternoons drinking a cafecito con abuela. It is a major part of what keeps me connected to my heritage, it is what keeps me feeling as Dominican as someone who has never left the island. My accent sounds like merengue, it tastes like tostones, and it feels like Nochebuena. No matter where I go, my accent never wavers, in fact my accent is what keeps me strong. 

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I now live in a mostly Mexican-American community in Southern California. Whenever I speak, most people look at me with curiosity and I often get asked, "De donde eres?" "No eres mexicana verdad?" 

The fast pace of my speech, coupled with my Dominican accent, the way I sometimes inadvertently cut off "s" from certain words, makes me stand out from everyone else around me. For many, it's their first time meeting a Dominican-American and, instead of getting offended, I proudly disclose my heritage with those in my community. Although it sounds different than what they are used to, most people receive my accent with warmth and curiosity. I often get compliments on the way I speak. 

My accent is a very vital part of my identity and personal heritage. It's the result of what happens when three cultures converge into one. More than that my accent reminds me of where I come from and where I am going, and that's a beautiful thing.