El Paso, Texas
I’ve grown quite fond of El Paso. My most recent group of experiences here all started back, as near as I can remember, it’s been 5 or 6 years, and it started because a local promoter was impressed with my astrology. She quit doing “psychic fairs” but by then, the new guy understood that I was entrenched as a regular reader.
Although it’s work that brings me here, I’ve had a chance to see a little more of El Paso than a regular tourist gets to see. I get a chance to interact with a large number of the area’s residents. I get a chance to partake of the local flavor, and I mean that in more than one way. I’ve stayed late, arrived early, and worked out any number of those combinations because I truly do enjoy the place, the people, and the culture.
But El Paso isn’t always kind to Texas. One of the recurrent themes here is the idea that El Paso isn’t really a part of Texas because it seems to be ignored by the rest of Texas. And I do have a problem when I suggest that I’ve got friends in West Texas, but my friends in West Texas are located East of El Paso. How does that work? The point of reference for this town might be the common urban story that it’s easier to get to LA than is to get to Houston from here. I don’t know, I keep refusing to make either trip.
There’s a cultural feeling which pervades everything in this town. I get paid to look at people and tell stories, usually a romance, and I get to look, observe, and listen. While I’m doing this, part of my brain is registering information about eye color, and hair color, and accents, making judgments, I’m sure, I’m only human. It’s the accents which I enjoy the most. While this is a theme that runs through most of South Texas, it’s more noticeable in El Paso. The Texas drawl is not present. The characteristic “East Texas” twang isn’t detectable, either. What is obvious is a strong “Spanish” overlay, and it’s the quotidian language, the border patois, which I hear, every time. There are a few exceptions, but by most standards, every one I talk to has it. English is almost a second language.
With my “poet’s ear” what I hear is the lilting accent, the Latin overtone, and Latin is a far more poetic language than my native English. The Spanish derivative is even more beautiful than the mother tongue, too. I’m not a trained observer, and I’m not one who can make the anthropology or sociology or even psychology type of observations. But I have encountered a few anomalies which I can explain. Imagine an Anglo, a white person, someone who is definitely not native to El Paso. Put this person in this town for a few years, and the language changes them. And they start to sound like a local native. The Spanish inflection and accent gradually creeps into the vernacular.
On one trip, I listened attentively while an El Paso native extolled the virtues of El Paso cuisine. He was right, after a fashion. He claimed that 100 miles in any direction and the food tasted different. I’ve been less than 40 miles north of El Paso, deep into the New Mexico Territory, and I’ve found that the flavor changes. I have yet to identify the exact spice, but there’s something in the food that makes it a little different, perhaps a little better, but that’s a biased opinion. Hot? That’s for sure. But it’s not a red hot flavor, more like bright white heat, maybe with a little bit of a yellow overtone to it. North of El Paso is New Mexico, with its yellow and ochre expanses.
It’s a little like the language which is spoken with its older heritage obvious. Perhaps the language and the cuisine reflects this elegant backwater, a weird oasis in the middle of almost no where, and set adrift, not fully belonging to any one place or time. And folks who are not from there wonder why I like it so. Green Chilies, red peppers, white hot heat, sounds suspiciously like a flag.
© Kramer Wetzel, March, 1999.