Ashamed by parent’s accents. I’m American!

Caroline Correia,
Edina, MN

Growing up 60 miles away from New York City in the 70s and 80s may as well have been 600 miles. As a child, I was acutely aware of what “other” felt like, even within my whiteness. My town was white, Catholic, and it wasn’t the kind of place you just landed in – you were there for generations. I am first generation American, and my parents are German. We weren’t like other people in our small town. My Dad worked in the “city” as a hairdresser (but he is not gay, try to explain this over and over), they both had thick accents that none of my friends could understand, we didn’t have any family in this country so holidays were just the 5 of us, we listened to classical music and opera at home. We missed so many cultural references that everyone else just seemed to know. And I felt is so deeply – the differences didn’t feel good, they felt like something I should run away from. I refused to speak German at home, I didn’t want my parents to meet friends, I never talked about our traditions, I felt such deep shame and resentment. Without realizing it, I see it only now so clearly, that I sought connection to anyone else in my town that was also different. My church friend was the sole black girl, my tennis partner was the Korean adoptee, my first boyfriend was the black quarterback, the second one was the Jewish boy. They all bore the mark I had of “otherness” in our community. College was the turning point in my life. I was exposed to students AND professors from bigger worlds. I realized my background made me unique and people thought it was special. “Good” different, not “weird” different. It it taking me a lifetime to come to terms and try to understand all of these feelings within my “whiteness.” I spent too much of my young years harboring anger at my parents and their choices for raising their family in such an insulated area. They were trying to do the best for their children, sacrificing for us, giving us a good life. They saw our town as safe (they are both children of WW2.) This need for physical safety was more important than emotional safety, which was never considered nor spoken of. I have learned to be grateful for my childhood because this is how I practiced straddling multiple identities. I can navigate any space I occupy. I have learned to understand. I am still learning.


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