This post was written and submitted by Knakia Francis.
Born and raised in Jamaica, my first language was Patwa, standardized as Jamaican Creole. I had family from various parts of Jamaica, and it didn’t take long to notice the tags and division in our shared language. The main divide was that of the country and the town areas; of the polished and raw. Jamaica, having been under British rule still battles with its identity. Still present is the desire to speak like the queen, hence British Standard English our second major language.
In 2003 my family and I moved to the United States to a predominantly Black neighborhood. In school my classmates reminded me, that though we shared the same skin color, looks wasn’t enough to identify, and that I had to speak like them and know of their experience (my family like many Black, mainly Caribbean and African immigrants held negative views of African Americans/Black Americans, especially towards their speech). For the sake of maneuvering I spoke Standard English in my home. We were also told not to speak Patwa (newly labeled as broken and incorrect English). However at school, wanting to identify and fit in with the group that looked most like me…I learned and spoke AAVE what is sometimes referred to as Black English.
During elementary school it was mandatory for me to take ESOL classes, I guess their hope at the time was to undo some of the strange spellings and pronunciations of Jamaican British English. At that time I was one of the few non-Hispanic students, who actually spoke English. Never knew why I was in ESOL. I assumed they wanted to make sure I spoke the right English.
In 2005, I moved to a majority Hispanic and Black neighborhood. I spent a lot of summers around my father and his Hispanic friends and coworkers. I sometimes found myself pretending to be to be a translator, usually attempting to explain in small words, big concepts and ideas. In my spare time I observed their accents and even the shame they sometimes would experience when speaking and in their attempts to learn English.
In High school, my AP World teacher Elias Vlanton, allowed us the opportunity to do an independent study on whatever topic we desired. I choose to investigate the origin and complexities of Jamaican Creole and especially its relation to the transatlantic slave trade. I noticed that even after the end of Spanish colonization in Jamaica, its stain was never completely removed. And I didn’t have to go far to find it, my mom’s middle name is Camarita, Spanish for “little camera”.
My first year of college and as a Desousa-Brent Scholar, I was again given the opportunity to investigate an issue on campus, with an overall goal to spread awareness, diversity and inclusiveness. And so I investigated the campus’ attitudes towards different speech groups, the stereotypes and especially assumptions about intelligence.