On Being From "Somewhere"
I knew the question was coming.
I was giving a teenaged cashier my phone number while checking out (seriously—why do you need my phone number to sell me a bagel?) when she asked me to repeat myself. She printed off my receipt, then smiled and asked, “Are you, like, from somewhere?”
I resisted the urge to cheekily tell her we are all from somewhere. “I’m originally from Kentucky,” I said.
“I thought so, because of the accent,” she said. “You just made my day.”
I knew she was just being friendly—curious, even—but my accent has always presented something of a conundrum. On one hand, I’m not ashamed of it. The people I love speak this way. The lilt of an Appalachian dialect is as comforting to me as an old, familiar blanket.
On the other hand, when I watch television or movies or even read some books, the stereotypically “dumb” character has an accent like mine. And since I am currently trying to focus on refining and sharing my writing, it is very important that people take me seriously. I want listeners to believe I am intelligent, no matter what sounds come out of my mouth. And people can be cruel.
Don't get me wrong--Accent-neutral Arizonians are kind, but every time they make a comment or ask a question, I can’t help but feel, self-consciously, that they’re making fun of me. I think about the Uber driver, for instance, who said she noticed my “twang” after I told her I was from Kentucky. I think about the car salesman who asked if I liked country music when he began to tune the radio presets in my car.
But then I think, too, about the lessons I delivered on dialect.
I told my Kentucky students that, at some point, someone would try to make them feel ashamed of their accent. I stressed that they should feel proud instead. I told them it is important to write and speak formally when the situation calls for it but, when sitting on the front porch with their Mamaw, they should feel comfortable speaking however they wish.
So even though I sometimes have to resist the urge to enunciate my words and call carbonated beverages soda and not pop, I’m determined to practice what I once preached. I love Arizona, and I’m learning to love my accent, though it makes me stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a reminder that I am from “somewhere”, a place filled with people I miss, a state that is undeniably a part of who I am.