El Paso is the last place west before you arrive in “not-Texas.” It lies on the tip of the finger pointing to the end of the world, or California as most Americans call it. I just missed being born in either a new or an old Mexico.
Growing up, I never knew I spoke Texan. It wasn’t until I ended up in California during sixth grade that my classmates informed me I talked funny. How was I to know that vowels could stand alone and speak just one sound? It seemed lonely somehow. When you needed a vowel in Texas, you called out “ya’ll come,” and they would come in pairs or threes all set to dosey-doe right out of your mouth into that dance of words that I now know is Texan, but thought was American until I went to California.
People fled to California to forget where they came from.They started fresh, leaving behind their former lives and vowels. Back home, the vowels were round and full like a bubble, and you blew them out slowly, enjoying their colorful sounds. You savored your words just as much as you did your mother’s cornbread, letting the vowels melt slowly till your words were drenched in their buttery sounds.
I had an ear for sounds and was a natural mimic, so I managed to adapt quickly to my new friends on the west coast. At that age, to talk funny was worse than having pimples because everybody knew those signs of adolescence would eventually go away. I learned the new way of talking; however, I would occasionally break out with “ya’ll” and hope that no one would draw any attention to it.
When I went back to Texas for my last year of high school, I felt like I talked funny. I switched back to Texan, but I’d lost the fluency. Hearing people speak in my mother tongue soothed me. I knew the music, but I’d forgotten the words of the songs. And now, I could hear the accent.
People on TV and in the movies speak like Californians–too quickly and with their unsociable vowels. Only cowboys, rednecks, and the uneducated speak Texan. Their rich, slow talking is usually depicted with condescending amusement as if they are children just learning to talk and mispronouncing the words. It’s cute, but you hope they grow out of it.
A good part of my adult life, I lived overseas. In the international community, I met people from many English-speaking countries. We all thought the rest of the English speakers had an accent. It’s amazing how plastic and moldable the vowel sounds are. The British may have the strongest claim to real English, but for me, it’s the cowboy, not the king, who speaks English the best.
Occasionally when I meet someone for the first time and they ask me where I’m from, they’ll say, “Well, you sure don’t sound like you come from Texas.” It’s true. I’m like someone who gave up piano at a young age and now is sorry they did. I will sometimes say a few lines in my best Texan accent, and that seems to satisfy them. It’s small consolation to me. But when I visit home and hear somebody speak real Texan, or when I unexpectedly slip out “ya’ll” in the middle of a conversation, I’m as happy as a chigger on the belly of a fat man.