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Alexandra Philstrom

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Alex Philstrom moved from England to the US with her family in 1982 when she was two years old. Because she was so young when she immigrated she quickly lost her accent, which she laments as an adult. Alex’s parents both have British accents. Alex passes as an American because she does not have an accent. Her parents, however, are asked where they are from every time they speak. Alex received her BA in Global Studies from the University of Minnesota and works as a Consultant in Human Resources Analytics. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband.

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0:02:49

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

Transcription

Up until about 6 years ago, the fact that I was born in England was just a party trick. In get-to-know-you icebreaker activities like Two Truths and a Lie, I would always include “I was born in England” and no one ever guessed THAT was a true statement. “But you don’t have an accent” they would say. And I would give my standard response: I came to the US when I was 2. Mom says that I had one but that as soon as I started school in the US I lost it because I was surrounded by American kids all day. My parents still have their accents. My Mom is from Windsor and my Dad is from a suburb of London called Bushey, so both have lovely British accents. I didn’t realize how much my parents’ identities were tied to their accents until I left home as a young adult. Mom and I went on a weekend knitting excursion organized by the Minnesota Knitters Guild: it was a bunch of knitters on a bus, traveling around Minnesota and Wisconsin visiting sheep farms and yarn stores. Mom and I didn’t know anyone else on the trip. It was striking to me how every time - EVERY time - my mom spoke to someone the very first thing they said to her was, “Oh! Where are you from?” And mom would recite her standard response: “originally from England but we’ve been in Iowa for 25 years”. I heard mom’s standard response over and over - I got sick of hearing it. I thought WHY is she always talking about England?? But then I realized that it wasn’t her; it was the people she was interacting with. Every time she speaks, that identity of being British - of being an immigrant - is reflected back to her. And that is very different from my experience. Without an accent, I get to choose when I reveal that identify. I would love to have a British accent, and I am sad that I don’t. When I hear British people on tv or on the radio - especially mothers talking to their children - it feels like home. Occasionally a phrase or exclamation will pop out, but I think that is more a symptom of being 37 and turning into my mother. Because I pass as an American, I didn’t realize that being an immigrant had an effect on my life beyond being a neat party trick. Then about six years ago I started working with a new colleague and she introduced me to the idea of being a Third Culture Kid. Since then, I have recognized that it is probably not a coincidence that my best friend growing up was from an Indian family, that I pursued a degree in Global Studies, that I tutor immigrants and refugees, that I worked at an international non-profit, or that I love being friends with people different from me. So even though I pass as an American, my experience growing up in an immigrant family still very much shapes my life. Now, I’m ok with letting my choices speak to my heritage instead of an accent.