This morning the local news had a segment about a police officer who had won the “Texas Toughest Police Officer” contest. At one point in the segment, the reporter interviewed the officer’s coworkers. One fellow officer interviewed was Gilbert Lopez. Officer Lopez was obviously Hispanic, but when he began talking, he had a strong Texas accent, which totally threw me for a loop. I guess I was expecting him to have a Spanish accent, and it was just a surprise when he did not. It is funny how we expect certain people to speak in certain ways. While visiting Toby’s mom in Lubbock this weekend, we came across a beautiful, sophisticated looking woman. When the woman opened her mouth to speak, out came the slowest Texas twang possible - you know - where they drag out one syllable words making them multi-syllables and difficult to understand. It is just a big surprise when you are expecting something more sophisticated. Now, I understand that accent does not have anything to do with intelligence, but it just comes as a shock when someone does not speak the way we think they should. I guess this is stereotyping people, but it is done subconsciously and with good nature.
Who am I to speak? I have a big Texas Twang. Having taught school in highly Hispanic areas, I used to get teased about my accent quite a bit. I could just say something as simple as “Turn to the white section of your book” and my students would laugh and mimic the word “white”. When the bilingual coordinator asked me what I was doing to teach the students bilingually, I told her I was teaching them to speak Texan. Unfortunately, the coordinator did not have a sense of humor. Toby talks pretty slow himself being a West Texas boy, as does his family. Toby used to say back in his college days that when he called home, by the time his mother said “hello” his three minutes were up. Once, Toby was on the phone with some company big-wig who made a derogatory remark saying Toby “had certainly not lost his Texas accent". Toby just drawled, “Why thank you.”
Because I live around lots of people with Texas/Okie accents, I don’t normally notice their accents unless they say something really unusual. When Okies drop the L’s and say things like “Hode on” or “It’s code outside” I notice it. When the word “pink” becomes “pie-ink”, I notice it. And when Officer Lopez had a big Texas accent, I noticed it. I remember as a child when accents first came to my notice. One of my friends in NM made fun of the way I said “Barbie dolls” - it was more like “Barbie dials”. Now my speech is laced with NM and South Texas words and accents. I rarely say “ya’ll” and say “you guys” instead. It took me a while to quit saying “arroyo” for a “gully”. I tend to call it a “pour-down” when we get lots of rain. Yesterday, I remarked that the hang-over (eave) was blocking the sun - Toby laughed and teased me on that one saying I had lived in NM too long. It was actually just pay-back for my laughing at him the other day when he said that he did not like the color of the new bathroom rug - he said it did not match the tiles. I told him that I did not buy it to match the tiles. He looked funny for a minute and then said, “I said ‘towels’ - not ‘tiles’. ” I did tease him on that one, but he gets to tease me lots too.