No Me Gusta Col Rizada – A Short Story

Content Warning: This story contains mention of suicide. Reader discretion is advised. This is a work of fiction.

Photo by Cedric Letsch on Unsplash

In a little Italian neighborhood near the Coit Tower, a swath of green space invites families to sit on park benches with aesthetic spikes, keeping them empty. Some stray travelers use their time to read real books or eReaders; many play on their phones.  The locked public toilets hide behind green and gold painted metal – inaccessible monuments to the city ordinances against the homeless. On a light pole near the Washington Park toilets, hangs an Italian flag – acceptable ethnic pride in a city so focused on Pride.

Two large dogs – larger than their owners – try to distract each other by initiating play. The Bay’s blue water shimmers through the trees as Union Street heads downhill. Against a clear blue sky, the world maintains an invisible boundary: the city on one side, me on the other.

This boundary follows my neighbors when we enter stores, or avoids us on trains. It turns heads when I speak Spanish to those that speak it to me. It garners looks in even the Mission and Bernal Heights neighborhoods, depending on the street. Fuiste de mi vecina. Hablé el idioma de mi vecina. Planning outings, I hear people say they’re “just not comfortable taking public transit because of the people using it.” By “the people,” they mean anyone too poor to use Uber or Lyft – my neighbors, as they’re priced out of their homes. Anyone forced into homelessness by landlords taking advantage of the influx of affluent young people coming to the city, anyone hurt by those supporting and choosing to be part of the problem.

San Francisco culture obsesses over hustle and definitions of achievement, creating blinders for “focus.” I watch my coworkers and the people I thought I knew focus to the point of denying that anything bad ever happens here. They shun or punish those that dare try to draw their attention to something outside their minds. In our company’s Human Resources department, I watch as they “solve” problems by silencing employees that raise concerns rather than admitting any harassment incidents occur. The company wins workplace culture awards from a third party reviewer based on an employee survey none of us ever see.

My friends seek out cults of social acceptance on the weekends. Each event they attend promises their problems will go away and solve themselves with enough positivity (and denial). I hear them talk about the latest seminar over a group dinner. Mental illnesses are a mindset problem. Anxiety, depression, or anything else can only be solved by seeking out “your higher power” – the goals you wish to achieve rather than fall for this weakness. They discourage each other from seeking medical help. 

One friend throws himself in front of the commuter train. I imagine him, so positive that the only escape from the pain he felt powerless against was to throw himself in front of that train he shut down for four hours. His mother sobs over thousands of crackling miles of static and telephone lines. His mother lives in Vietnam. I meet her at SFO and pay for the Lyft to her hotel. We sit in silence in the back seat, and she reaches for my hand. “Sean was a good boy,” she whispers to me. I squeeze her hand, feeling the lump in my throat grow and choke out tears. She flies out two days later after collecting his remains and making arrangements for his belongings. I never hear about a funeral.

But the mantras continue for the others: yoga and kale cure everything, including major depressive episodes. Your higher power is what you wish to achieve. That causes people to throw themselves in front of trains. They tell me that I don’t understand. They tell me I’m not eating enough kale. I’m not doing enough yoga. In San Francisco, every conversation leads back to Yoga and Kale. No me gusta col rizada.

From the top of Twin Peaks, I gaze out at the sun reflecting off The Bay and compose my resignation letter. My brain can’t choose to ignore what I see. Closing my eyes, I imagine Sean with his mother – a pair I never saw in life. His beautiful mother, a refugee in America, now, a returned Việt Kiều, lives on without her son. Would my own parents return to the land that they fled? How far does this invisible boundary between water and sky extend? ¿Hasta dónde llegaría para echar agua en el mar?


If this story brought up any difficult feelings for you regarding suicide, please reach out to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 (USA). They are also available to chat 24/7/365

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If there is anything you see in this story that needs correction, please let me know! I am happy to work on aspects of this story to improve it for my audience.

Thoughts On YouTube, Podcasts, And Accents

I was 18, sitting on a dock over Lion’s Creek.

The Article

Today there is a repost of an article by Jessica Love in The American Scholar titled The Disappearing Accent. In this article the author goes on to discuss how certain age groups have more difficulties distinguishing English accents than others, particularly younger age groups to focus on only familiar accents and will tune out unfamiliar accents.

Accents and dialects play an important function socially by helping individuals distinguish locals from non-locals. This gives an immediate sensory input of “in-group” vs. “out-group” and based on the associations with that group a person will have a response. Accent responses contribute to a global issue of systemic racism and sometimes, these responses aren’t so friendly (see: almost every anti-immigrant accent joke ever – even Disney is guilty of a long history of these).

Accents do help individuals determine where, geographically, someone is from rapidly without conscious thought. Interestingly, accents can tell us a lot about the history of human migration as well.

Expanding on this, even English accents and dialects demonstrate this history of human migration. The accents found throughout the former British Empire are based on the timing of colonization compared to when the Great Vowel Shift occurred, when and where the colonists originated from, and whether their English dialect originated from Victorian or Elizabethan English.

As someone from the Chesapeake Bay my accent originates from Elizabethan English prior to the Great Vowel Shift. This is unique and part of what makes accents from this area special and different sounding from all other Southern accents. Tangier, Hog, and Smith Island are the famous Chesapeake Bay islands, but there are so many others no longer occupied by more than one or two houses, if any. The watermen lived along the shorelines and worked the bay.

My grandfather was born north of the Bay and we came into the area. My parents lived most of their lives elsewhere, then raising us in towns always on the Shore as opposed to on the Islands. This is an important distinction. My accent is not multi-generational, and therefore not as thick as others.

The Accent Tag

If you haven’t been exposed by now, there’s an incredible thing called the Accent Tag. This has been used extensively for documenting the way people speak through YouTube videos and is a wonderful resource for authors who want to research how someone from a particular area would sound. I decided to read off the words from the word list after several hours of silence and white noise as auditory input to provide a baseline of my accent.

Here’s a recording of me saying the Accent Tag words

What About Youtube Videos And Podcasts?

I would love to! Based on my pronunciations above, do you think people could understand me if I slip into that? Do you think I’ll need subtitles? I’ve had students accuse me of needing subtitles before, during classes while teaching and that’s been embarrassing. In the past my accent has made it difficult for people to understand me.

In past relationships it meant I was lectured on correct pronunciation, and it may have played a role in why they never introduced me to their family. I have been told that my accent makes me sound “low class” and “uneducated”. I’ve had to explain to my own husband that he needed to back off with the “you’re pronouncing it wrong” bull crap.

Long story short, people experience accent discrimination by losing job opportunities and by experiencing people being dicks to them, sometimes their own spouses and friends. The moment this is combined with any other factor their lives get way worse. To be blunt: it’s a lot of effort to keep constantly worrying about how I’m pronouncing things. You can hear me trip up in the word list with “Spitting Image” because… That’s not how I would even begin to say that phrase because it’s not even spelled that way in my head.

For these reasons, I’m nervous about being public with my voice. I know my accent that slips out is not as thick as a Tangier Islander accent:

That said, my accent is something I think is special and unique. It is one of the most beautiful things about where I am from and about the history of the United States. And it’s disappearing. Accidentally, I may be part of the last generation of Americans to have a Chesapeake Bay accent.

The Delmarva peninsula and the Chesapeake Bay are the settings of many of my stories. I look forward to sharing these with everyone so you too can know the joy of stories of Accomack, Onancock, Harborton, Onley, Wallops Island, and more.

Concluding Thoughts

Accents are complicated. They are used to make judgments that are often unfair and completely uncalled for. They are used as a deciding factor in job interviews and by random people we meet in passing for an introduction.

“An accent comes with a connotation. You think you know if someone is smart or stupid because of their accent. And yet the truth is an accent is not a measure of intelligence, it’s just someone speaking your language with the rules of theirs.”

Trevor Noah Afraid of the Dark

In Trevor Noah’s quote, which I love, I think dialect comes into play. A dialect is a particular form of a language specific to a region. Think about an accent as a language being spoken with the rules of a dialect or another language than the one the listener thinks is “normal”. That’s it.

So… Next time you want to correct someone for pronouncing something “wrong”, pay attention. Is that how they always pronounce it? Are they consistent? Is that how everyone pronounces that word where they’re from? Maybe it’s okay to not correct accents that are different from your own. Besides, it’s on both of you to adjust during the conversation to improve communication.

So what do you think? If I slip up and say a word (or a lot of words) with my rounded, drop vowels and soft start consonants will it bother you too much for me to make videos or podcasts? Should I do both formats and put subtitles on the videos? Let me know in the comments!