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Please Tell Your Mother What I’m Saying? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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“Can you please tell your mother what I'm saying?” I am the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants. All my relatives live in the same state as us, no more than an hour's drive away. Growing up in this close-knit community sheltered me from people and events like this.

“Can you please tell your mother what I'm saying?”

Was it because I looked American? Was it because of her accent? Was it because this woman had been living in a homogeneous society where everyone looked, dressed, and spoke the same way?

“Can you please tell your mother what I'm saying?”

I looked up from my book to stare at this cashier. My mother was arguing with her over the price of the clothes she was putting on layaway for Christmas. The woman had stopped speaking to her and was talking to me instead. She stood, waiting. I frowned as the words started to penetrate the fog of my book-world.

“I want to speak to a manager,” my mother said, making a conscious attempt to control her emotions and her voice. This unnerved me. I was still trying to figure out what this woman meant. Why did I need to translate when my mother wasn't speaking in another language?

But she had, for most of her life. And despite being in America for 20 years, her words sounded different from this woman's, I suppose. Were they different enough for this woman to make assumptions? Were they different enough for her to degrade my mother like this? Were they different enough to matter?

The manager came and sorted everything out. I watched him suspiciously, a tirade ready in my mind for another xenophobe. He was courteous. He treated my mother as people have always treated her – but now I wasn't so sure. Did he treat others differently? Was he a little too friendly? Was he patronizing? I couldn't be certain anymore. I dropped my book in my mother's purse, the fog completely cleared and my eyes open to a whole new world.

When we left, I asked my mother why the woman had said that. She paused and then answered, “In this country, you're going to meet people who hear you and think you haven't been in the U.S. long enough to really understand anything. But you have to be strong.”

A few weeks later, the same thing happened on the phone to my father. My father is not my mother. I heard him say very loudly, “My accent doesn't mean I don't know my rights. I know how to take you to court and I will.” I came closer as he yelled and then hung up without listening to another word.

“Daddy, what did they say?”

He didn't tell me. All he said was, “They think because I have an accent I was born yesterday.” Then he looked at me and said, “Don't let people mispronounce your name. Don't let them treat you wrongly. You kids are lucky. I'm never going to be anything more than I am now. But you kids were born here and that means you can do anything you want.”

He was always saying that. Now it began to click. It was that part of getting older that I didn't like: the realization of truths. Finally, I was seeing things that must have been happening all along.

My parents were foreigners and were at times discriminated against because of that. This was on the same wavelength as that Martin Luther King Day in kindergarten when they separated the black and white kids, and acted out the differences between black and white classrooms. This flowed right along with people calling me a geek because I read a lot, or a nerd because I did well in school. This went hand in hand with those who pronounced my last name any way they saw fit.

“Can you please tell your mother what I'm saying?”

I wasn't able to do anything that day. I may not be with my mother the next time it happens. But my eyes are open.

There are more people willing to embrace variations in our world today, so I may never meet another like that. However, since then, I don't let people mispronounce my last name. I teach them how to say it, teach them to give me the respect I give them. It has given me more backbone when I meet new people, and I no longer hide my name as if I am ashamed but broadcast it loud and clear for all to hear.

Mine is the name of one who will do great things that her parents will be proud of. It is the name of one who no longer watches people berate her mother for her accent, but steps in. It is someone who believes the slightest disrespect is discrimination against the beautiful differences that make the world spin and treats it as such, as something unacceptable and ugly. It is the name of someone who will never let something like that happen again.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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beautifulspiritThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm
Your last paragraph just clicked for me. Your name is part of who you are, a piece of your identity, something to be proud of. Unfortunately, there will always be times when being from another country can make others treat someone differently. It's unpleasant. But what's important is to not let the bad times keep you down. 5/5 I liked your article. This has never happened to me personally, but I could understand where you were coming from. Makes me things about how others feel.
 
DarkEyes replied...
Dec. 31, 2012 at 11:30 am
I definitely agree with you, and I don't have anything else to say^. You did an amazing job, congrats!
 
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