Dalia Al-Dujaili Column: Making fun of our parents’ accents

Making fun of our parents' accents

Making fun of our parents' accents as children of immigrants.

A Tweet from @ramoumaaa asks, “does your mom know you put a shirt on your head and mock her accent on the internet or should i tell her”, which got me thinking about those videos which my brother and I love to share between ourselves, and our parents too. The ones where immigrant kids will imitate their parents’ accents and act out scenes from typical Middle Eastern-immigrant households. 

It’s something almost all of us have done. “Ba-leese!” we mimic, when our Middle Eastern parents ask the waiter for a “glass of water, please”. Our parents laugh along, but I wonder; does this constant mimicking game make them feel small in a country they’ve fought so hard to become large in? 

There is something both deeply funny and deeply tragic about an ‘accent’. The trials our parents and grandparents have gone through to set up lives for us in different countries, or the trials they’ve been through in their own countries, only for Western media to mock the inflections of a rich and ancient language that practically invented wisdom within their great Houses of Knowledge, and encourage children to believe their parents’ way of speaking is ‘less than’. 

I’ve noticed when, a handful of times, people will pretend not to understand my mother because of her accent. “Huh? Sorry, what was that?” they say, staring her down with pity, patronisingly, and infantilising. Almost as if they refuse to understand her unless she speaks in proper English. I’ve found myself adopting this same attitude (do I dare say; colonial attitudes seeping into the minds of marginalised bodies?).

This infantalising approach is used to make immigrant women, especially those from the Middle East, become victims of their own apparent insubstantial nature. The little brown women who need saving. 

But my mother’s tongue is beautifully twisted, as if tasting both sour and sweet at once, and it writes the story of her journey across land and sea. Maybe, next time the urge takes hold to turn her expedition for a better life into a comedic performance, I’ll learn to hold mine.

Dalia is a freelance Iraqi-British journalist and editor with bylines in Huck, Cosmo Middle East, Riposte & Notion,focusing on emerging creativity from the SWANA region and diaspora, migrant narratives, and reporting on community-led stories from the margins.