Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Living In Harris County, Texas Has Made Me Hispanic

The Harris County, Texas Clerk’s office reports that nearly 150,000 voters with Hispanic sounding surnames are likely to vote in the county in 2008.

Houston, where I live, is in Harris County.

I’m pretty sure I’m one of those so-called Hispanic voters. My last name is A-Q-U-I-N-O.

I once worked with someone in Houston who after knowing me a year blurted out “You don’t seem Hispanic at all.”

Right she was—I’m Italian. At least I am everywhere except the Harris County Clerk’s office.

Or when I get an occasional piece of junk mail or a phone solicitation in Spanish.

My wife and I once went to Italy. Over there they thought she was the Italian. Really she’s Jewish. The dark curly hair tricked the Italians.

(Above is a picture of my homeland—Naples, Italy. I’m glad to report that the wife and I once made it to Naples.)

Growing up on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, I recall many teachers who would trip over the pronunciation of my name at the beginning of the school year.

Uh-queen-o is how you say it. (The little cruds I went to school with never tired of pointing out the “queen” part. In Houston I’m a Hispanic Italian. In Providence I was a straight queen.)

The East Side had fewer Italians than other parts of Providence.  So I had clueless teachers and kids who could not help but comment on my name, despite the fact I was part of the largest single ethnic group in the city.

My elementary school and middle school years were in Providence. I went to high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. The high school I went to was 95% black.

Nobody took me for black.

My father once told me to trust people with many vowels in their last name. He meant Italians, but I’ve expanded it to include anybody who fits that bill.

(My wife, who is in fact the best person ever, has kept her two-vowel maiden name. You can’t have everything)

I was in a store last week. I noticed on the name tag of the man ringing me up that he had every single vowel in last name.

All of them!

I praised him for this. I said–“Man, you have every vowel in your last name. That’s great.”

He said, “You noticed.”

I think he was proud of the fact.

Justly so.

I asked the ethinicity of his name.

He said “Persian.”

I said, “Iranian?”

He said yes. He was friendly about it all.

Of course he was friendly—His name was loaded with vowels.

The man seemed somewhat hesitant say Iranian because America is at odds with Iran right now.

Iran is defined as the enemy.

If Iran is the enemy, why did that guy have so many vowels in his name?

I’m not Hispanic. My wife is not Italian. That man at the store was no enemy.

When other people define who you are or what you are, they will most likely get it wrong.

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December 30, 2007 - Posted by | Cincinnati, Houston, Immigration, My Wife Is The Best Person Ever | , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. great post…and really valid point….I loved how you tied it all together…I am adding you to my blogroll..

    Comment by enigma4ever | December 30, 2007

  2. Lovely post. And an interesting phenomenon, anthropologically speaking.

    I have a friend who is from Argentina, but of German descent. When she is in Argentina, she is considered white. When she is in the U.S., she is considered Hispanic.

    Comment by Vanessa | December 30, 2007

  3. Thank you for both nice comments. I’ll add both your shops to my blogroll.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | December 30, 2007

  4. Since virtually every telemarketer who calls me in Cincinnati these days plunges immediately into Spanish (except for the telemarketers very obviously of Indian origin), I suspect Harris County isn’t the only one counting non-Hispanics with Hispanic sounding names as Hispanic voters.

    And, I’m not convinced it’s totally a recent phenomenon, though certainly much more prevalent now. Assumptions about what the ethnicity or race a person is, using the last name as a guide, certainly played a role 22 years ago when every military recruiter who called the house seeking to convince my then 18-year-old son to join up was either Hispanic or African American, based on the voices and names offered. Unless, of course, the Army, Marines, etc., were totally devoid of any other recruiters.

    Comment by Newton | December 31, 2007

  5. Its the power not the people that are dangerous. we are more dangerous than any country the way the people have let the leaders rule and run over the constitution in the last 7 years. we are our own enemies.

    Comment by bill brady | December 31, 2007

  6. Wow – that was really beautiful.

    Comment by Tee | July 28, 2009

  7. Tee–Thank you.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | July 28, 2009


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