Poem by Ruslana Westerlund as Featured on Protest Poems

Originally published in 2010


Where are you from?

What languages do you speak?

Aren’t you from Mexico?

Really, where are you from?

Since you asked, I will answer you.

You might listen, but will you hear me?

You might hear me, but will you understand?

You might nod, like you’re understanding, but will you accept me?

Will you accept me and my olive skin as your equal, as your American kin?

You might “embrace diversity”, but will you respect me?

You might even say, “We are not just tolerant, we are multicultural!”

But will you truly listen to what I have to say?

If you listen, I will answer you.

I will speak on behalf of those who were born and raised on this side of the border, but who get interrogated constantly.

You asked, “Where are you from?”

I am actually from Irvine, California.

No, but where are you really from?

From Irvine, Orange County, California, I thought I had already said that.

“Aren’t you from Mexico?”

I say nothing.  I want to say, “Aren’t you from Ireland?”

I say quietly, “Born and raised right here, Irvine, California.”

Not all of us are FOBs, “fresh-off-the-border”

And before you ask…

Yes, I am here legally.

I dare not repeat “Born and raised, Irvine….”

Instead inside of me I yell, “NOT ALL MEXICANS ARE ILLEGAL, FYI…”

“Who is your ESL teacher?” he continues.

I do not say a word…

My English is flawless.  My speech is accentless, but my skin color is not.

No, I do not dare say, “Not all of us, Latinos are in ESL!”

Instead inside of me I yell, “NOT ALL OF US LATINOS ARE IN ESL!”

You asked, “What languages do you speak?”

I say, “English.  Do you want to know what language my grandpa
spoke? Spanish! When he went to school, they didn’t let him speak Spanish.  That’s why I am not bilingual.”

“Wow! You speak English good!”

I reply,“You mean, I speak English WELL?”

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5 thoughts on “My Speech is Accentless, But My Skin Color is Not

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  1. Wonderful! I have to say, I’m always asking questions about people’s origins. Often I’ll start the conversation, “Do you speak a language besides English?” Or, “What was the language I heard you speaking?” Then I can ask, “How do you know it?” Then they can say, “I was born in [whatever country],” or, “My parents are from [whatever country].”

    Since it’s the language that drew me into the conversation, that’s where I start.

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    1. In my poem the conversation does not start with the language, hence, the title: my speech is accentless but my skin color is not. Children of immigrants who are not white are often interrogated where they are from even if they were born in the US and due to pressures to assimilate and other factors, they have lost their heritage language. This also happens to Asian American born in the US when they get asked Where are you from? Really where are you from?

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      1. This poem reminds me of this video. http://youtu.be/DWynJkN5HbQ
        All too often our students have interactions like this that negatively impose on their ability to create self-identity or to link it to the classroom. However, as a white student, the only time I had to answer ‘where are you from’ was on the “study your family history” assignments.
        Thanks for sharing. I hope you don’t mind if I use this poem in an upcoming training?

        Like

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