28 November 2010

"Where Are You From?"

"Where Are You From?"
© Rhianon Elan Gutierrez
Originally published on Hearing Loss Nation
October 4, 2010

"Where are you from?"

I find myself being asked this question (or versions of it) often. Perhaps it is my freckles and reddish brown hair, my Welsh name, my Spanish last name, or my accent. It is usually because of the latter. When I respond that I am Southern California born and raised, I am doubted.

"No really, where are you from?" they say.

"I'm really from here."

Sometimes the strangers' curiosity persists and they change the wording to specify: "Where is your accent from?" I can feel the nervousness in their voices and see the confusion in their faces. I've considered fooling them by making up an absurd story about my heritage. I just tell people the truth--that my accent is the result of my deafness. Once, someone felt so bad that he had asked me about my accent that he offered me free chocolate. I declined, even though I do love chocolate. I don't need or want pity.

Some people think I'm Hawaiian, French, Argentine, or from some other South American country. One Turkish man even insisted that I was Egyptian simply because he wanted me to come to his nice beach house. Most of the time, I find it funny, but I'm being asked where I am from on a weekly basis, sometimes two times a week. My accent is not mundane in the sea of many accents, even when I am living in a city rich in cultural diversity; my accent makes me interesting.

I know that I'm not alone. There are many people out there with hearing loss who have been asked the same question and given different answers. Some encounters have been transformative, charming, and hysterical, while others leave you with a feeling of annoyance and disgust. It's not just about the accent. It's also about the sounds we hear or think we hear. It's about the malapropisms that are inevitable as lipreaders and the captionists who are amazing and those who are not so amazing. It's about walking on a line that is neither black nor white.

I want to hear those stories, and I think the world should hear them too.  Interested in sharing your story?  Email me at rhijahfilms@gmail.com.

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