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Thoughts On Texas Legislator Who Suggested Asian-Americans Change Names

Republican Texas State Representative Betty Brown of Terrell has said Asian-Americans in Texas should change their names to something more easy to pronounce and understand. 

This issue has been written about by other Texas progressive bloggers and I’d planned to ignore it. It’s just so dumb and predictable from a Republican member of the malignancy known as the Texas legislature.  Blogging about it had a shooting fish in a barrel quality. 

But my friend Diane in Maryland asked that I write a post about the issue and I don’t like to disappoint the blog reading public. I guess what’s expected in Texas is not how things go in Maryland.

Representative Brown’s comments reminded me of my elementary school and middle school years in Providence, Rhode Island. This was in the 1970’s.

My last name is spelled A-Q-U-I-N-O.  It is pronounced  “A-queen-o.” It’s Italian and I’m pretty certain that people of Italian descent are the largest single ethnic group in Rhode Island. In any case, many Rhode Islanders are Italian.

At the beginning of each school year, at least a few of my new teachers would trip over my last name and ask me what kind of name it was.  While I did go to school on a side of town in Providence that had fewer Italians than other parts of the city, we were at the same time electing in Providence a Mayor named Buddy Cianci.

In the years since I left the Providence schools, I’ve looked back and wondered how these teachers could not figure out my name when I was part of the state’s largest ethnic group. Had the teachers been living on a boat out on the Atlantic and just sailed in for classes each day? Did they not grasp that they were in Providence, Rhode Island?  

Texas is one of four states in the nation with a majority-minority population. (California, New Mexico and Hawaii are the other three.) How could Ms. Brown have missed this fact? Though, more likely, what she is trying to do is wish that fact away.

There’s often a presumption by some that they are the true Americans and that others are somehow alien. Expressions of this presumption can be based on a kind of benign ignorance such as what I got from my teachers in Providence, or they can take a more malignant form when expressed in an insulting way by an elected official.  

In any case, no matter how long America draws immigrants from all over the world, this kind of thing still goes on. Sometimes it’s best ignored. Other times you have to speak out. The good news is that we have a President named Barack Obama and a younger generation that seems more open to all of America’s diversity.

The Betty Browns of Texas and these United States will never fully go away, but even they may realize, or may have already realized, that their numbers are dwindling.

April 11, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Texas | , , , , , | 5 Comments