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An acquaintance had heard I’d taught ESL (English as a Second Language) and asked if I could help him to reduce his accent. I had to decline, as it’s been years since I’d done it, and didn’t have my workbook materials anymore.

As he left, I overheard him talking to a friend on the phone, saying the football game the other night had been “unfreakinbelievable” (expletive adjusted, shall we say).

“Viktor,” I said to him, “if you know the word unfreakinbelievable, you don’t need my help with English. You’re already an American.”

“I am?” he said, lighting up. “Do you really think so?”

“Not only that, son. You may have been born in Poland, but you’re now officially from Jersey!”

Besides, I told him, my job was never to eliminate accents. It was to help immigrants learn how to communicate in English. As long as you can make yourself understood, you’re good. No need to erase any trace of where you come from.

We’re all from somewhere. It’s okay if your homeland and heritage season the way you speak. That’s how it should be. It’s part of who you are. You were there. Now you’re here. Welcome!

If you really want to know a secret, my own accent is obvious to everyone BUT me. Not for nuttin, but I’m from Jersey, youse guys. I do notice a deep Joizey accent in others, though.

Like the ticket-taker in a local parking deck. A few years back, I worked in an office nearby, so he came to recognize me and we’d exchange pleasantries. One day, he asked what I did for a living.

“So what are ya. A sucka-tevvy?”

I said, “No, I work in an office. I’m an Executive Assistant.”

Also known as a secretary. Or, as he termed it, a sucka-tevvy.

I was miles down the road before I realized that he had asked me if I was a secretary. And English is our first language! Imagine how hard it must be to get the hang of a new language and new customs in a new country.

We’ve all been the new kid on the block many times before. Now, just imagine that the world is the neighborhood. You don’t have to put out a welcome mat if you’re not so inclined; just don’t ask the rest of us to lock everyone else out.  No matter what you might read in the papers, there’s still a lamp beside the golden door, shining in the night for all those that yearn to breathe free.

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