Accent doesn’t define person

By Anita Doberman: Columnist

When people mention exotic places they would like to visit, Texas is probably not the first one that comes to mind. But to me, growing up in Rome — which seemed so ordinary — Dallas was the most exotic place I could think of.

As a teenager I fantasized about being an American girl, growing up in Texas, going to an American high school where kids had lockers — we didn’t have any lockers in Italian high schools — and where there were cheerleaders and football players.
Never mind that I didn’t speak English or that I hadn’t the faintest idea that Dallas was a sprawling metropolis. In my mind, Dallas was the ultimate American city, full of cowboys and Southern belles.

More importantly, it was where I would learn to ride a horse — not one of those sickly looking ponies in the middle of Roman traffic, but a real American horse.

My picture of Dallas and the Texans in it epitomized what I thought meant to be a “real” American. After I moved to the United States, and eventually visited Dallas, I realized it wasn’t how I imagined it. But I still believed that being a true American had to do with cowboys, country music, line dancing, big trucks, large hats and pointy boots. Those images I once saw on TV were more convincing, apparently, than reality.

I couldn’t move to Texas, but I still hoped I could learn to speak with an authentic Texas accent. When I decided that was a little much, I figured I could at least get rid of my Italian one. So while living in Los Angeles I contacted a well-known voice coach and asked for a consultation.

During our visit she complimented me on my vocabulary, accent and use of the English language and added that to get rid of my intonations — the way I pronounce words and put together sentences — I would have to see her once a week, do exercises two hours a day and spend a fortune in the process. I am embarrassed to mention how much she would charge; let’s just say I would have to save up.

But soon, it wasn’t just the money that kept me from taking those classes.
Aside from my husband “forbidding” me to get rid of my accent — he says it’s one of the things he loves most about me — over the years I have learned to accept it. I have come to understand that a true American is not just someone who lives in Texas and wears cowboy boots — though it doesn’t hurt — but that a true American is also anyone who has come here to live free and try to make a new life.

Now all I have to do to complete my realization of the American Dream is get a horse, learn to ride it and yell “yee ha!” – Italian accent and all.