Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Why We Call Him Ricky

Hey everybody! (Hmmm, too much Simpsons? Possibility high.)

I'm still in LA la land. Basking in family bliss...and sticky door nobs, toys under foot, wet beds, no internet, 20 viewings of "Sibella (Cinderella), lots of packing...ahhhh, this is life....(to quote Parrapa the Rappa').

Seriously though, or at least closer to serious than before, I'm glad to be visiting my folks. It's nice to see them interacting with their grandchildren, but it's nice to know I leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow too.

I went over to Richard & Steve's house on Monday night for dinner. They live 6 miles from my mom's house. 11 minutes according to GMaps. I GOT SOOOOO LOST! I mean seriously I'm-gonna-cry lost. I had to get "talked in." Cell phones rock.

Now, I've said it before, and it's gonna happen again and again, I do tend to lose my way. I'm not a stranger to that. But Monday night I could not find my way to Elysian Park, which was not and unknown place to me. I just had to get around Dodger Stadium and I'd be fine! I had NO CLUE. I have been away from this place for so long that I could not tell you how to get there. 14 years; they lie heavy on me. It was a fantabulous dinner though. You guys are rad cooks! The cocktail to calm my nerves was just the ticket too.

So back to the title of this post, cuz I've been thinking about it a lot. Richard is a "Hollywood friend." I.e. he works on the little screen and writes a whole lot. Did stuff with movies and is currently writing for a new "Latin" soap opera to appear on American network TV! (I'm bad at explaining, read his blog.) So "Richard," in hollywierd, adopted "Rick" as his moniker. I don't call him Rick. I tried, hard, it doesn't happen. Probably cuz I like the name Richard. But he wanted to know why his house keeper and most of the non-native English speakers around him call him "Ricky."

I don't think it's a throw back to Ricky Ricardo or anything. I've been giving some thought to it and it's gonna break down into three different aspects of Mexicans and their speaking and naming of people.

So part the first, Nicknames: In Mexico everyone has a "sobre nombre," an "over name." It's what people call you that may or may not match your given name or your personality. Hairy men might be called "pelon" (baldy), while fat ones might be called "flaco" (skinny), depending on when and where and by whom they were given their nickname, but nickname you will have. I'm "Nena," which is far easier to pronounce in Spanish than the American name my mother gave me. (No, she wasn't dissing her heritage, she was naming me after one of her favorite nuns.) Richard is a hard one. You end up with Rishard. And I wonder why as there is a "ch" sound in the Spanish language...but when I asked my mom to pronounce Richard's name she tried very hard to soften that "ch" and it came out as that "sh" that people say messican's can't pronounce.

That's where part 2 comes in: I thought about (serendipity here people) the fact that I'd just told Richard and Steve about a little ESL teacher tidbit I'd picked up along the way: "aspiration" in pronouncing the English language. Americans blow out and make their sounds, if not clear, "hard" as they push out air through their mouths when speaking. Go ahead, put your had in front of your mouth and say "push." You'll feel the air with the "p" as well as a little with the "sh." When I first heard of this wonderful trick that gets rid of a whole lot of Mexican accent, I shared it with my mom, who does not like speaking in English because she thinks her accent is too thick. We practiced a little and she HATED it. You spit when you talk if you're speaking English correctly. And we do, my friends, we do, saliva everywhere...

EEeeuuww. Moving on, Spanish is not an aspirating language. It's very soft in relation to the hard hissing and moving of air that is English. So my mom will say "Richard" in a "soft ch way" that melds into an hard ch's in the middle of a word, that's harsh and might produce too much saliva!

And then there's the third bit: two syllable names. People aren't called Rick or Steve or Todd or Bob in Spanish. They're Kiko and Chato and Pedro and Marco. And I don't know why, I just come up with these theories, you guys can go off and prove them :). This of course blows up in my face when Steve chimes in that Lloyda doesn't call him Steve-y, but as he hasn't said anything yet, we can pretend I'm right for now, 'kay? 'Kay.

So, we combine all of these issues: sobre nombres and lack of aspiration, and we get things like Nena, Api, Chuy, Mari, Ricki (cuz you know it's really with an "i" if it's a Spanish sobre nombre). So Richard, if you're indeed a "halfrican american," your housekeeper and company are just pulling you deeper into the realm of fitting into your new culture. We may want to go from Ricki to something cool and tough, you know, to match the neighborhood. Once they give you a cool nickname, you'll know your in like Flynne (or whatever you white people say :).)

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