Being “Sort-of” but “Not Quite” in London – Sharon Hammer, Hamilton College (Sep-Dec 2019)

The custom surrounding accents in Spanish are quite similar to those of English in the UK: the way you speak gives nearly all the information someone needs to place you, from where you grew up, to your economic class to your education level. When I was working this past summer at a local burger restaurant to save up for study abroad, I would find myself speaking Spanish often with our guests. While I was easily able to identify whether  folks were Argentinian, Spanish, Venezuelan, or even Peruvian to personalize their experience, most of them ended up reacting to me with the same type of confusion.

“Wait, where are you from?”

My accent likes to migrate from a sighing caraqueña accent that of a southern Spaniard without an aspirated ‘s’ . More often than not though, it resides somewhere in between. Even getting a bit of a shake up when I incorporate more flowery English syntax to my speech.

Some can call it a mixed-up Spanish, but it ultimately serves as a marker of my unique story.

I enjoyed a more European-influence upbringing in Caracas, Venezuela on account of my Spanish-American mother and my German-Venezuelan-American father. From our last names to our nationalities, hyphens are never out of work in my family. When political turmoil emerged in Venezuela due to the ongoing class war leading to politicization of race, my nucleus moved to the United States. To a certain degree I feel a shared experience with my paternal grandmother, who grew up exiled from Venezuela with her siblings until 1938, but am also aware of the difference given tremendous advantages I’ve had thanks to my family’s social standing.

 When I tell my peers at Queen Mary that I’m Venezuelan-American they seem somewhat relieved. I think with Latin Americans being such a tremendous minority, the cultural baggage as to how I am meant to look or act or such is not as prevalent. It also helps being somewhat familiar to a majority of Londoners: sort of an educated white European, but not quite. This “uncanny valley” is a reaction I find unique to my time in London. The United States, in contrast, is both so large yet so isolated and is experiencing an unprecedented volume of migration quite recently in its short history as a nation.

As a result, I think there is a more general migrant story that pervades in the United States that is commonly held and, understandably, maintains cultural prevalence. I’ve encountered many situations where my story gets written off as my attempt to seem exotic. Which I say out of candor. In contrast, the existence of hubs like Mile End that emerge from centuries’ long history of migration to the unique city of London offers a larger collection of nationalities, experiences, and legacies that make the fabric of this rich area.  Even on campus I can count camaraderie with folks from Irish to Turkish to Indian to Russian and Chinese origin. Neither with a story quite like the other.


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