Actress Dianne Dixon can twang, slang and is known to ace the Jamaican patois dialect of her country as well as those of many Caribbean islands.
Her dramatic appearances in productions — “Haiti’s Children of God,” “One of Our Sons is Missing,” “An Old Woman Remembers,” “Not About Eve” and in television and film appearances that include “Law and Order” and “Jamaican Mafia” it was not surprise that the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the City University of New York tapped the actress for the second season of the “We Speak New York” web campaign.
Time and again she has demonstrated her ability to communicate effectively to diverse groups.
In the series of dramas about the lives of working class immigrants who come from all over the world to make New York their home, Dixon appears in the episode “Cesar’s Journey” portraying Nana Aidoo, an African born teacher.
Her role involves interpreting the American vernacular to students whose primary language is foreign and for the general population in New York City often difficult to translate or comprehend.
It also affords her another opportunity to “speak in tongues.”
As an instructor she must “help guide a group of frightened and unsettled immigrants achieve a better understanding of American life through her work with them inside and outside the classroom.”
Dixon describes her character as a “wise, thoughtful and humorous woman with great empathy who remembers all too well her own arrival and difficult adjustment to life in the USA as a non English speaking immigrant and who uses her own stories and experiences to support and inspire her students.”
“Everywhere I travel, I always pay special attention to the local dialects — the rhythms, cadences and music in the voices of the people,” she said. “And I’ve always been a very good mimic so I pick up on that easily and it just lodges in my memory, ready to be to be rolled out on the right occasion.”
The show was created to assist adult immigrants for whom English is a second language in improving their understanding of English by watching the series, as well as to learn about their rights to city and community services. The show deals with topics as diverse as workers and immigration rights, the struggle to make ends meet in New York City, family issues and early childhood education, among others.
Having visited Ghana, the voice of Nana seemed familiar and for her was like coming home.
“I just felt that I knew Nana Aidoo very well,” she said. “I’ve met women just like her on so many occasions during my trips to Africa. And our amazing writer- director George Lavoo, really gave me the license to create her in my own way, very organically, and I hope viewers will feel that sense of authenticity when they see the show.”
Reportedly, throughout a career spanning 15 years, Dixon has never had formal dialect training. However, she maintains that her knack for listening intensely, a keen sense of hearing and talent for imitation has always qualified her for a myriad of roles requiring accents.
Recently she joined fellow cast and crew members at the Museum of The Moving Image to launch the premiere of the second season of the Emmy award winning web series.
“We Speak New York” premieres on June 1 and can be seen online at www.nyc.gov/