- Juliana Qian [x]
This is so relevant to my life - for years I used my English accent as a way to prove that I had a right to live here & I wasn’t any less an “authentic” Brit (what does that even mean anyway?) and I thought that my “perfect” accent could trump all the aspects of myself that defined me as Other (my skin, my hijab etc.). I always felt like I had to constantly prove that I belonged here and my accent was my way of showing that I was just like any other Brit. Don’t look at my face! Ignore my name! Ignore my history and my family’s history! Listen to my voice and you’ll hear that I’m just like you!
I don’t blame 16 yr old me for trying so hard to fit in but if I could I’d tell her that her accent meant nothing - it didn’t override the fact that her family started life in the UK as refugees fleeing war or that the immigrants discussed in the newspapers as “taking over the country” included her own family or that the hijab on her head (and on her mother’s head and her sisters’ heads too) meant others would impose their own definitions on her (“oppressed”, “terrorist”, “uncultured”).
There have been so many times when I have spoken to someone on the phone and then, once I met them, seen the look of surprise on their face that I am not white. Maybe next time I will say: “This is Somalia speaking, she just sounds like you now”.
For a decade, the way I spoke Swedish was my way of saying “Please, don’t see me as garbage because I migrated to your country and I live in the hood. I too am Swedish. Please”. I started neglecting my heritage, I grew ashamed of my mother tongue and I tried to sound as “Swedish” as possible but the color of my skin hindered Swedes from perceiving me as Swedish. I was an immigrant and this pained me. At times, there would be Swedish teachers asking me if I was half Swedish, because they were surprised that I was fluent in the language and I let their ignorance turn into compliments. I remember once, I visited my friend who lives in a very rich area in Stockholm. Her Swedish friends were stunned when they noticed how “civilized” I was and how good my Swedish was. They said “You are not at all like them”. It was then I started to realize what pain I had caused upon myself and that my pain was caused by people like them. Today, I only have these words to say, “This is Bangladesh speaking, she just sounds like you now”.
For Melbourne people who are interested in hearing more from Juliana/Lia (and she’s an amazing speaker/performer live) she’s gonna be speaking on GLBTQ refugee rights at Federation Square this coming Saturday - August the 31st - along with the rest of 3CR’s Queering the Air team
And you should definitely go hear her speak because she’s an amazing speaker.