Confession time: I am Cuban American. And for the life of me, I can’t do a Cuban-American accent.
TBF, I can’t do dialects. I have a half-baked Southern accent and a quarter-baked French accent I can’t sustain, and an intrepid-Victorian-scientist accent that doesn’t seem to come from any particular country. 🙂
I also don’t try to write accents into my stories very often. Too often, accents on the page look like caricatures, stereotypes, or at best cheap laughs.
But the thing is, I love the Cuban accent. The way it swallows letters and contracts syllables makes it sound gentle, flowing, and friendly. And here I am, writing a novel with a ton of Cuban-American characters. How could I not represent that accent that surrounded me as I was growing up, at least a little?
Time to call in expert help. In this video, Matt Haynes breaks down what is happening in your mouth and to your tongue when you speak with a Cuban accent. Like he himself says in the video, this isn’t an exhaustive review of all the elements of a Cuban accent. But his performance at the end of the video rings pretty darn true to my ear.
Best of all for me (with Claire’s help; she has a terrific ear!), I was better able to get something down on the page that kinda sorta looks like what I hear when I’m in Miami.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is, among other things, a valentine to my Cuban-American heritage. Ignoring the accent that filled my ears as a kid would have redacted too many lines from that love-letter.