Saturday, September 5, 2015

But You Don't Have an Accent

I'm guilty of judging people's accents. Guilty, over here in this corner, especially after I studied language acquisition and linguistics. I love accents and all the flavors of English that people come up with, whether it's people making up new words, like "crackin' frackin'" or pronouncing things "funny."

The teacher from my language acquisitions class was from Russia, and she said that she hated when people said things like, "Oh, your accent is so interesting" and "Your English is so good." Sure, English is her second language, but it was still insulting to her. At first, I didn't understand why it was insulting to her. Being able to speak a second language is a huge feat. Who wouldn't want to be complimented on it?

Aha, but now I know. The tables have been turned on me. Whenever I tell people I'm from Louisiana, one of their first reactions is, "But you don't have an accent." The fact that they latch onto my accent and automatically assume I'm not originally from Louisiana is completely insulting. I feel that southern pride in me welling up, and I almost feel the need to retort, "Yeah, well, your face has an accent." It's like they're implying I'm lying and that my heritage is made up because I don't have a stereotypical southern accent.

First of all, different southern states have different accents. Alabamians have a grating drawl while Arkansans just have a drawl, more of a loopy one, and their drawls sound different, but it's hard to describe them without showing someone an example. Eastern Texans have a twang while Western Texans have a drawl. Texans from San Antonio are notorious for not having accents at all, or at least not a Texan one. Mississippi has a softer drawl, similar to Northern Louisiana yet different. Northern Louisianians have a soft drawl while southern Louisianians may sound Cajun, Southern, or like me, an apparently barely there accent.

I am Cajun by blood. My last name is Hebert, and my mom's maiden name is Boudreaux. The only way it could get more Cajun than that is if I married a Thibideaux. I try explaining to people that only Cajuns in the country, who are typically not as educated, still retain the Cajun accent. We've literally had the Cajun accent beaten out of us with education.

Worst of all is when people go, "You don't have an accent" and then correct my words when I speak. The biggest instance is quarter. We pronounce this as "QUA-tur" while everyone else pronounces it as "QUOR-tor." We don't do that "UOR" thing. That syllable literally hurts when I pronounce it, yet everyone around here likes to correct my pronunciation. On top of that, people not from Louisiana apparently can't distinguish the differences between my hill and heel, but in Louisiana no one ever corrected me. Don't even get me started on the pronunciation of Lafayette. All them northerners like to say "lah-FIE-yet," but we say "La-FEE-yet," like a laffy taffy. In our defense, we're Cajuns and illiterate in French. We make it up as we go.

Having someone question your accent is like having them question your identity and heritage. It's like telling someone who's depressed that depression is just a phase. It's not appropriate. Sometimes people literally aren't pronouncing words incorrectly; that's their accent coming through.

Some people up here in Pennsylvania have country accents. They're kind of similar to southern accents yet different, like they have weird northern accents mixed in with the southern accents. One time a guy said, "home" and it sounded like "hooouuume," like a British accent mixed in with an American one, I almost turned around and said, "WHAT?! Say that again!" I've noticed that people in Pennsylvania do have accents even though they say I don't have one. They tend to pronounce their vowels more in the front of their mouths while southerners, or at least Louisianians, pronounce their vowels more in the back of their mouths. They even distinguish between pen and pin, which my northern teacher made fun of me for because I don't distinguish between the two. It's all pin to me, not pehn.

I think our lesson for the day is that you shouldn't assume that everyone from one area has a certain accent. When someone tells you he or she is from a certain area, yet lacks the area's stereotypical accent, believe them. I think it's much safer to ask them if some people from their area have accents rather than just to assume that person is lying about their hometown. Because, let me tell you, "You don't have an accent," dem be fightin' words. And the media, such as Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, and journalists, tend to pick out people who fit a stereotype, not ordinary, average people. Your stereotype of the "true" southern accent is more likely inaccurate and biased.

For kicks and giggles, here's a link to a dialect archive that has recordings of people with different accents: International Dialect of English Archive. It's outdated, but still interesting. If you'd like to listen to my boring voice, click here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It's Okay to Have Low Self-Esteem

To be honest, self-esteem has nothing to do with achievements or IQ, but it has a lot to do with experiences and perception. You can be the smartest person in the room and still feel inadequate, worthless, and unimportant. Maybe it was because your mom told you you're not good enough because you're not feminine enough. Maybe it's because society looks down on your skin color, or maybe it's because you're parents were so busy trying to provide for you financially that they didn't provide for you emotionally. The point is low self-esteem happens, and some of us spend years trying to correct it. We insists there must be something wrong with because no matter how hard we try to tell ourselves we are worth it, we don't believe it.

And you know what? It's okay. To feel bad about yourself, about your actions, and about your worth is human. Some of it comes from your perception, some from abuse, and some from micro-aggressions. A lot of people may compliment you and can be very sincere about those compliments, but you probably still won't believe them. And you know what? That's because you don't need compliments. Compliments only reinforce the idea that you're not ok, that something must be wrong with you because you can't see what other people can. Compliments can send you right back into that depression loop. What you need is permission to have low self-esteem, permission to be negative.

If you have low self-esteem, people will call it unhealthy. They'll say it needs to be corrected. That you'll never be worth anything because you don't think you are worth anything. And honestly, how narcissistic do you have to be to think that the way you treat yourself is all that matters, that if you change the way you treat yourself, your whole life will change? It doesn't work like that. Consider people who exercise and lose weight to become healthier or to look good. Some of them still don't feel good about themselves even after they accomplish their goals. You need more than achievements to feel good about yourself. Sometimes, society is literally to blame and our social norms need to be reconsidered. Why is being fat considered to be so bad? Why are fat people stereotyped as lazy or worthless? HMMMMMMMM.

Low self-esteem has numerous variables, and there is not one single cause. So if you're suffering from low self-esteem, don't blame yourself because odds are your low self-esteem came about from a lot of different factors, not just because of the way you acted.

From Dharma Comics
It's like one comic I saw in Uncovering Happiness by Elisha Goldstein. Low self-esteem does not mean you're broken. You don't need to fix yourself because low self-esteem is not wrong. Society will tell you otherwise, that low self-esteem is a problem and you're like an untouchable because you don't have confidence. The truth is that some people do have confidence but lack self-esteem. Humans exist on a continuum and some people are more confident in a few areas but not in another. The idea that self-esteem and confidence are related and that you have to be fully confident is BS. It sucks even more that the media reports that people are attracted to confidence, but they fail to report that "confidence" is an American attraction. People in east Asian countries find shyness attractive. If anything, the idea of healthy self-esteem is very strongly influenced by culture. Self-esteem is a mix of your thoughts interacting with society's norms. It's not just you. You are not to blame.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in our lack of confidence or lack of self-esteem that we think it means we're incredibly worthless. We are not worthless. We are human: fragile, vulnerable, and fluid. I don't think anyone else can state this better than Brene Brown. Sure, low self-esteem can cause complications, but I think the biggest complication is caused when we think we should be someone we are not, stronger than we actually are, and fake "confidence" more than we actually have it.

So, please, the next time someone comes to you and says that he or she has low self-esteem, give the person room to feel that. Complimenting them won't help, and most likely, they won't believe your compliments anyway. They'll just assume that you're trying to be nice and not telling the actual truth. Instead, give them room to breath, room to be. "I have low self-esteem." "Yeah, I can understand that. Life can be difficult and gets you down sometimes. It happens. It's okay. It's not wrong to feel this way. I'm here when you're ready to talk about it."

Low self-esteem is not forever, and it shouldn't be treated like it's a disease.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Heritage of Racism in Louisiana

With all the newspapers reporting on the Confederate flag, the wheels in my brain started turning. A lot of people are claiming that the Confederate flag represents history and pride in heritage, but that idea is a complete foreign concept to me. I see none of my heritage in the Confederate flag and have never heard anyone in my family say anything about it. Around here, it's the flag that arrogant uneducated people in giant pick-up trucks like to put on the front or back of their vehicles, but it's not a symbol of Louisiana's heritage.

When outsiders come to Louisiana, especially southern Louisiana, they always tell me that Louisiana feels like a foreign country. To be honest, for a really long time, it was owned by foreign countries, so I suppose it's not too much of a stretch to say that those foreign countries affect Louisiana's culture a lot more than the British colonies did. I see my heritage and pride in the Acadian flag that one can see flying in Lafayette at the welcome center.

Regardless of which flag we accept as a symbol of our heritage, Louisiana is still a part of the South and still hasn't escaped racism. Cajuns have an odd relationship with black culture. Back in the day, we were called "coonasses," and while there are two different theories about where this word comes from, one theory is that blacks were called "coons" and so Cajuns were called "coonasses" because we were the lowest of the low, lower than blacks in the social system. I'm not sure if I believe that. However, I can say that blacks and Cajuns have interacted and influenced each other over the years The major difference is that over time Cajuns learned to hide their Cajunness and blend in with other whites. All because of our skin color, we could pass for WASP even though we spoke a different language and were stubbornly Catholic.

There has always been tension between blacks and whites in Louisiana. It's always seemed odd to me. Blacks that I grew up with in elementary school treated me differently by the time we got to high school. Perhaps that was just growing up and didn't have anything to do with race. However, I've noticed that when blacks talk to me, they're very respectful, and when they're around whites, it's very much keep your head down, yes sir, no sir, and get out of there as soon as possible. When they talk with one other, they're much more lively and rowdy and they seem free. It always felt awkward to me because it seems like they stifled themselves around whites.

I can't blame them. It's hard to deal with people who are convinced you're a terrorist or criminal just because of your skin color. My grandpaw always used to say that he wasn't racist, but "some people had to be put in their places," always winking right after he said that. We just nodded our heads and kept our mouths shut because he was the patriarch of the family, but we all knew he was racist. Even he knew he was racist.

This type of racism literally permeates the social fabric of Louisiana everywhere, both in the Cajun world and non-Cajun world. Frequently, on both sides of my family, it's implied that wherever blacks go, there will be trouble. They're automatically criminals who game the system, steal, and cheat their way through life. Low income housing automatically means blacks who do drugs and white people who are corrupted by blacks'influences. 

It's really painful to sit there and listen to the chatter. They accuse Obama of being a Muslim and that blacks hate him because he has abandoned their race. Because Obama isn't giving the blacks free rides, they're abandoning Obama. They say blacks are the destroyers of communities and only want free rides. They're lazy, only get into college because of sports, and are horrible workers.  I wish I was making that up, but I'm not. Even when I attempt to argue against that stereotype, that not all blacks are like that, only very very few of them are, I get shut down. "Oh, I worked with them. You don't know how it is. You're just too nice to everybody.""

Sometimes I want to scream at them. You're talking about a whole segment of the population, how can you stereotype everyone like that? It's not right. If anyone is tearing down communities, it's those who hold grudges and biases against others instead of approaching each human as an individual. The absolute worst part of this is that the whites, like my family, don't think their beliefs are a problem. They view their beliefs as fact. They say they're not racists, and that it's black people's behaviors that are the problem. Whites complain a lot that blacks play the race card all the time. Most likely, I think white people say that when they're afraid to lose control and power. They don't realize how ironic their statements are.Yeah, blacks play the race card because they deal with people hating them automatically. They deal with people assuming they're criminals all because they were born with certain dark pigments. 

When one group of people put downs another just so that they can keep power, I think there's something wrong with that situation. Whites say "they're playing the race card," but blacks are calling out the racism and nonsense they have to deal with on a daily basis. Instead of discounting blacks' experiences and cries of racism, why aren't we listening and trying to understand what they think is oppressing them? Why aren't we creating a better system? It's as if whites have this idea that they couldn't possibly take part in any horrible system, not even unconsciously so it's not them that's the problem. It's blacks' behavior.

Having pride in your heritage can be inspiring and can encourage you to develop an interest in history. We shouldn't have to hide where we come from, but we at least need to question the symbols and beliefs of the past. Some of the current stereotypes of blacks exist today because they came from periods of slavery. Somehow, we need to be able to have a dialogue about pride yet admit that mistakes made in the past need to be corrected. The Confederate flag doesn't mean much to me, so I don't think I can comment on its removal. However, it is associated with slavery, and it's about time we have that conversation. The Confederate flag may be a symbol of heritage, but it's one with an unfortunate past.  

Sunday, May 31, 2015


I've thought about writing this post for a long time now, maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months. Every time I pull up my blog to write, I somehow distract myself, on purpose. Instead of pouring out my heart, I end up scouring the Internet, reading news articles, and just procrastinating in any capacity that I can. It's hard to concentrate at work, and I spend hours surfing the Internet instead of writing descriptions of manuscripts. "It'd be too difficult to finish within two hours, no need to start so late in the day," I tell myself. Maybe that's true or maybe I'm just delaying the inevitable.

To describe how I feel is probably one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish. To act is even more difficult. Frequently, I end up so exhausted that I end up laying down to watch TV because, quite frankly, going to sleep is what I'd really like to do. But my thoughts would race around my head, and it'd be impossible to fall asleep. My brain is exhausted, but my body is not.

Logically speaking, I know I'm not a bad person, and I have evidence to back up that statement. Still, my conscience likes to throw all the negativity at me that it can, "You're a dumbass. You're a bad person. You're stupid. No one wants to be your friend." No reason to do anything anyway. I'd mess it up somehow.

Blog posts lay unwritten. Commitments have fallen through the cracks. Dishes lay unwashed. Books are half-read. And all I want is to feel okay. I'm no longer seeking happiness, just an okay feeling. To have my brain not tell me I'm horrible and to actually get stuff done would be nice. Having happiness may not be something that I deserve, but I at least don't deserve this.

It's gotten to the point where nothing that my friends say brings comfort. Their only response is "Go see a therapist," which I've started. I've had two appointments so far, and I'm not sure that's helping. I'm starting to be convinced that I'll be stuck this way forever, and there's no hope for me. Maybe medication will help, or maybe the side effects will be so bad that I'll just give up.

I don't know. All I know is that I cannot stay here, attempting to shut down everything that I feel. I can't keep withdrawing and avoiding, holding out until this nonsense goes away. It's not going away. It's getting worse.

I keep waiting for that one thing that's going to take it all away, but I'm not sure that thing exists. Exercising 30 minutes a day doesn't help, volunteering to walk dogs doesn't help, reading self-help books and practice the activities doesn't help, and watching TV only helps for a short period of time. Is there such a thing as getting better? Perhaps the one thing that I need is time.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cajun F - Fais-do-do

At the end of major festivals, Cajuns tend to host a "fais-do-do" pronounced "Fay-doh-doh," like the dodo bird. The fais-do-do is basically square dancing for Cajuns. Live bands are invited to play French folk music, which I've heard has a 3/4 pattern, like a waltz. Some bands sing in English, but most that I know sing in French since they're typically older men who play acoustic guitars, accordions, washboards, and drums. Young people and old people come together for fais-do-dos with older people demonstrating how to do traditional dances. Some steps are rather easy, but other steps require the male to spin his partner around and then they step backwards for a while. Amazingly, the old people don't trip, and they sure know how to dance.

I've only been taught to dance one traditional style, which was a very boring "one-two-three" step with your hands on your partner's shoulder. I wish I would've learned the exciting backwards dance, not the slow one.

As a young kid, we sort of invented our own "traditional" dance. You link hands, step to the left, step to the right, and then spin! I always enjoyed dancing that way, but I'm pretty sure it exhausted my cousin.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cajun E - Etouffee

As soon as I moved away from Cajun Country, I noticed a huge difference in the kinds of food that people served. Even as close as Baton Rouge, people don't know what a real gumbo is. Northern food tends to be lighter, less fatty, and kind of bland. It lacks the cayenne kick or the roux luster that Cajun food has.

Unfortunately, I don't know how to cook Cajun food. I never really learned because when my mom made some, it took hours. Not so much labor intensive, but the food required a lot of shimmering and stewing.

Here are some common Cajun foods:

Etouffee: a creamy sauce/white stew with seafood, usually shellfish like shrimp or crawfish, served over rice. My mom always made this with the leftover crawfish we had, so I typically avoided it because I'm allergic to crawfish.

Gumbo: a thick, dark colored hot "soup." Its consistency is between a stew and a soup, but it's not thin at all. Usually, people just throw in whatever they want, such as okra, seafood, chicken, andouille sausage, celery, onion, and such. The base is a roux, which is made from heating and constantly mixing flour and oil until it turns the color you desire. (Creole gumbo around New Orleans is more tomato-based.) This dish is usually served with rice and potato salad.

Rice dressing (dirty rice): When I talked to my New Orleans classsmates, they really didn't know what this was. They called it a Cajun thing. It's essentially seasonings mixed with green onions, ground liver, and rice. The liver is the best part since the texture is soft and chewy. I always thought it was ground beef when I was young. Even though I know it's liver now, I still eat it. It's honestly one of my favorite things to eat when my family gets together.

Boudin: Essentially, Cajun sausage. It's a mix of rice, meat, and other stuff in a synthetic casing. This is probably my sister's favorite thing. Fun fact: the casing is synthetic because it used to be made with intestines. You can eat the casing, but it's very chewy and not pleasant. Fun fact: Whenever I do eat intestines, it reminds me of boudin. It might sound gross, but it's delicious.

Po' boys: This is basically a sandwich that has fried seafood and other sandwich dressings, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and such. New Orleans tends to have very fancy po' boys that don't look like po' boys to me. What makes this different from other sandwiches is the bread. It's kind of like a soft french bread. Po' boy stands for "poor boy," and these sandwiches are usually cheap and not fancy. They were for poor working men who needed something to eat, but now pretty much everyone eats them.

Cracklin: This is basically pork rinds (fried pork skin with a little bit of fat attached).

Pecan pralines: A sticky, sweet candy bar like dessert. A lot of people like this during pecan season, though I don't care much for it. It'll break your teeth if you're not careful.
*Jambalaya (pronounced Jumbolaya): This is more of a Creole thing, not a Cajun thing. It's made with sausage, rice, chicken, and sometimes vegetables. It's more of a tomato-based rice mix. I only ever had this at school and not at home.

I think that covers the major foods. Most Cajun foods are made with seafood and rice. The "holy trinity" of Cajun cooking, which is almost in every dish, is made up of celery, garlic, and bell peppers. Cajun food really isn't spicy at all. There's just enough to taste the flavor, but it's probably considerably more than what northern Americans are used to.

My family never really used Tabasco sauce even though the factory where it's made is close by to my hometown. We owned a few bottles, but never really used them. Other people do use it though, and you can find bottles in pretty much every restaurant if you need an extra kick in your food.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Cajun D - Derouen

There are typically few ways to tell who is Cajun on sight. Though I've only been told I look Cajun by one person (who I thought didn't know what he was talking about), in fact, most of us just look white (many have dark brown eyes and brown hair though). However, if you tell someone your last name, then they can most likely identify you as Cajun. For example, one man asked me what my last name and replied, "Oh, so you're Cajun. What's your momma's maiden name?" After he knew both my last and my mom's maiden name, he said, "Ooh, you got crazy on both sides of the family," which is funny, 'cause the man himself had a Cajun accent. He apparently had crazy in his family, too. For kicks and giggles, here's a list of names that usually gives someone's Cajun heritage away.

As a side note, I should mention you typically can't tell if someone is Cajun by their accent. Older people and those who live in the country do have some sort of accent, but most younger people (those 50 and younger) don't have accents. For some reason, my northern colleagues can't wrap their heads around this idea. The Cajun language and accent is typically dying off, but that's another post for another day.

Common Cajun last names:

Derouen - pronounced DUR-waunh (I'm not sure how to write the n sound. It's like an uhn sound in the back of your throat and not an n nasal sound)

Hebert - pronounced - A - bear (The A is the name of the letter, where as AH is in the back of your throat, like a Korean agreeing with someone saying auhn. I'm not sure this sound exists in English. Sorry. It's similar to pawn, but a little different, stopping short of pronouncing the n.)

Landry - pronounced LAN-dree, but with a Cajun French accent, it's like LAUN-dry

Bonin - BOH-Nehn

Fotenet -fauh-EHN-noe (I'm not sure about this English spelling to be honest)

Bertrand - BUR-trand

Broussard - BRU-ssahrd

Trahan - TRAU-hauhn

Leblanc - LE-blauhn

Guidry - GIH - dree (it's a short i not a long i, so the i sound that's at the top of your mouth, not the ee sound in the back of your mouth)

Richard - REE- shard

Terriot - tear-RI-oh

Savoie - SAH-vuwah

Pellerin - PEL-ler-rehuhn (I'm not sure how to write the rin sound. It's like you start saying ran, but end up with ehn. raehn, maybe?)

Melancon - Meh-LAUHN-sauhn

Dugas - DOO-gah

Foret - FOUR-ey

Prejean - PREY- jauhn

Guilbeaux - GIHLL-bow

Comeaux - CO-moe

Doucet - DOO-set

Cormier - cor-ME-a

Leger - LAY-jay

Dupuis - DOO-pree

Champagne - SHAH-pine

Barras - BAH-rah

Boudreaux - BOO-droe

Thibodeaux - Tih (short i)-BEH-doe

Gautreaux - GO-troe

Breaux - BRO

Babineaux - Baa-BIN-noe

There are others, but these are the most common ones I can think of. Have fun trying to pronounce them!