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I am an American with an accent

I can’t imagine that after living for almost 40 years in this beautiful country of ours, the United States of America, I still feel that sense of awkwardness each time I am asked to pronounce and spell my name.

It all begins when people notice my accent, which after all these years shows no signs of letting go of me, and I am asked to fulfill their curiosity by providing information about my race and heritage.

Then comes my name. A multi-syllable cluster of consonants and vowels meshed together that gives the person who is attempting to pronounce it a sensation of chewing on sandpaper. And in an effort to ease the pain, I have developed a user-friendly approach by spelling my name one letter at a time: V as in Victor, A as in Apple, R as in Robert, O as in Orlando and so on until I have completed the spelling of my first name. Then I jokingly advise the person to perhaps take a short lunch break before we could continue the uphill climb of domesticating my name.

How I wish my name were simply Sam or Tom so to make my introduction to new acquaintances less ceremonious.

But, I would like to happily admit that neither my uncommon-sounding name nor my accent has ever caused an obstacle in achieving a productive and a fulfilling life. I have been extremely fortunate to be living in a country that respects and makes foreigners like me feel at home. In fact, America has welcomed me with open arms. From the minute I came to this country, I considered myself to be a blank page, and I let America write her culture, history and values all over me.

 

Having been raised in the Middle East, I had brought with me old values, prejudices and bias. I was raised to protect and shield myself from all who did not look, act or behave like me. America helped me to abandon those old-country preconceptions. I learned to be respectful toward anyone regardless of their skin color, religious affiliations or sexual orientations. And I embraced the American ideals that freedom of speech and equality of all people are a basic way of life. 

And most importantly, America taught me to embrace values of others like they were my own.

This is why when people ask me if I ever had any difficulty in adjusting to the American way of life when I first came to America, my response has always been, absolutely not!

Until now. Or I should say until this last year or two, when for the first time in my American experience I am not only witnessing a cultural shock but I am terrified by the negativity, anger and discordance embraced by a large part of the population of our country. It feels that the pendulum of civility has swung the other way. 

When did this happen? Was I living in a bubble all this time? And how come that same America that bestowed upon me all her values, making me a whole new person, suddenly has turned her face the other way and abandoned her own values? 

The level of discourse and the dialogue between people belonging to various parts of the political and social spectrum has never been so crude and insensible. Nowadays, it is perfectly acceptable to be openly racist, sexist and to criticize others without any sensibility or consideration. To be politically correct is considered to be wimpy and spineless, and being compassionate is regarded as nothing short of a being a coward. Hateful and swearing remarks have become the accepted mode of communication. And suddenly I am beginning to question if this is the same America I fell in love with. 

Fortunately, I have become a believer of the concept that this is just another phase of the American experience. And just as we reconstruct communities after major hurricanes, we will survive this downfall and restore our highest ideals.  

And I consider that it is my responsibility to stand up and be part of rebuilding and repairing America, because I am no longer just an outsider or an immigrant. I am an American who happens to have an accent.

 

Varoujan Froundjian is a graphic designer, Photoshop artist, writer, cartoonist, information technology and wine expert and drives a limousine for local livery. He can be reached at varoujanfroundjian@gmail.com.