Take a moment to close your eyes and pretend you could only hear my voice.
Oh wait, that’s completely unnecessary.
Alright, then let’s pretend you’ve never seen me before. Not even a profile picture. And let’s say you didn’t know my name.
Who would you picture as the person behind the voice? Is that person younger or older than you? Are they tall or are they short? Skinny? Overweight? And what about the color of their skin?
I worked in a call center when I lived in Oklahoma. The funny thing about call center work is that you deal with voices all day. Maybe that’s why it usually drives people to the brink of insanity and back. But there’s something that happens when you deal with voices without bodies or faces.
With only a person’s voice as a starting point, it’s easy to begin forming opinions – right or wrong – about the person on the other side of the phone.
Race is just one thing you decide right away. There’s age. Weight. Social status. Marital status. Sexual orientation. Median income. Education level.
If you don’t believe me, then you’ve obviously never worked in a call center.
You learn that Minnesotans really do have accents. That every single person in New Jersey is a jerk and people in California are always in a rush. You learn that senior citizens retired in Florida absolutely love to call and chat in the middle of the day. Of course, there are many, many exceptions to every stereotype, but at the end of the day, you know those stereotypes had to come from some place of truth.
Now, let’s go back to the original proposition. About me. My voice. What does it tell you about me?
If you ask some of my closest friends, many will tell you the same thing:
“You’re the whitest Mexican I know!”
OK, so I know I was pretty harsh about the phrase “Mexican” on my last audio blog. To briefly clarify, I would technically fit the category of Mexican-American and I have no problem with that. My dad was, in fact, born in Mexico. I was born in the United States. But if you were to ask me, I would still identify myself as Hispanic.
I’m not sure why I’ve become so race conscious lately. Maybe it was moving back to New Mexico. Or maybe it started when I moved to Oklahoma years ago or maybe it began years before that.
In any case, I don’t fit the stereotypes.
I may look Mexican, but I sure don’t sound it.
Most people in New Mexico speak with at least some hint of Spanish accent. Even without thinking, they elongate their phrases and they’ll ask you something like, “How are you doing?”
Of course, there’s also Spanglish – a mixed bag of English and Spanish with some slang thrown in for good measure. My grandma is a seasoned pro at this.
I remember when I was in elementary school, we were practicing for the Christmas program and my grandma would join me in singing a chorus of “We weetch you a Merry Christmas.”
So with all of that in my blood, where did I end up with my very White-sounding, not-Mexican accent?
Well, I’d say I had a very mixed upbringing.
I was raised in the South Valley of Albuquerque, where I currently live. It’s not the roughest place in Albuquerque but it’s certainly on the bottom half of the economic spectrum.
I went to school in the Northeast Heights. It was a private school with plenty of well-to-do families sending their kids for a privileged education.
I attended church on the Westside of town, which is a whole other mix of people altogether.
And somehow my interaction with that mixed blend of peers resulted in a brown kid with a white accent.
Now, don’t kid yourself. I can still roll my R’s with the best of them and my Spanish isn’t too shabby. And when I order from a Mexican restaurant, I ask for tamales and tacos and enchiladas with some tortillas on the side and sopapillas for dessert.
But let’s be honest, we’re all the result of a mixed upbringing in our own way. America’s melting pot culture has shaped each of us. And old stereotypes will break and make way for new stereotypes and those stereotypes will break and make way for new stereotypes, which will break and make way for new ones after that.
So what about you? What stereotypes fit you? In what ways do you break the mold?