What’s in a name? For the Jose’s and Eduardo’s in America it might be both their identity, and a barrier to their dreams.
I don’t mind if my skull ends up on a shelf as long as it’s got my name on it. ~Debbie Harry
For the last few weeks, the internet has been rather intrigued by a Vid that went viral, about a man who, after being frustrated by an unsuccessful job search, changed his name on his Resume, from Jose to Joe. Suddenly the job offers started to appear. What surprised me about this video was not that the job offers started, but how this is news to so many people. For any immigrant, descendant of an immigrant, or simply a person whose parents got creative during the naming process; this has always been a reality.
Many cultures and myths believe that one’s name holds power. There is even the almost universal belief that knowing the True Name of a spirit gave you power over it. The reality is that in a way this is true to every person. Even in a crowded or noisy room, you can hear your name mentioned. Your name defines who you are and commands your attention. Just ask any mother chastising her kid as she thunders her child’s full name.
So the article stroke closer to my heart than what I would have imagined, because without wanting to, I myself had changed my name from Eduardo García Padilla to Ed Garcia. And by doing so, I gave up part of who I was. And I had not realized how much I resent it.
I moved to the US Mainland, for the same reason so many migrate, a desperate act to find a better life for my family. So with a one way ticket, I got on that plane with the intent of bringing my family in one year’s time. That gave me a countdown clock that constantly hovered over my head. I am explaining all this because, in any other moment of my life, I would have stuck to my principles and my ego would have probably gotten the best of me. Yet when you pull a Cortés, a life decision where failure isn’t an option, pride takes a back seat to desperation. And you start putting up with things you usually wouldn’t.
I headed out, armed with descent resumé and portfolio (I am an architect by trade), I started submitting it to firms within my area of experience. And nothing. So I started heading out to every trade and Job fair I could find. As an architect, as a designer, or even as a project manager (what I had done for the last 15 years of my life) nothing. When I did get the chance for an interview, asking if I am “Legal” is illegal, but asking if I “will you require your employer to assist in your residence” isn’t. The fact that I am a born citizen with a Latino name apparently is too confusing for them.
And when I was at my lowest, when I was convinced that I was failing my family, an old guy volunteering at the local community center told me a phrase I would never forget.
“Welcome to ‘Merika.”
His name was Salib, yet his presentation card read Sal. He would help people find work and get settled in. He looked over my resume and recommended the name change. At first I got furious, frustrated. Why the hell would I have to change who I am to deal with their prejudice, their ignorance, and their bigotry. He looked at me and asked a simple question. “How many ‘Salib’s do you think people would hire after 911?”
So here I am, Ed Garcia. And I am not the only one. How many people changed their last names to avoid sounding Jewish during WWII, having to hide their heritage. How many Russians Immigrants changed their names during the Red Scare? How many Actors change their name to avoid giving away their ethnicity? How often have you heard of Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez and how often have you heard of Martin Sheen? Why do you think the children of so many immigrants have English sounding names? Even our President used ‘Barry’ instead of Barack during a lot of his youth.
So the next time someone quotes Shakespeare and wonders “What’s in a name?” consider that this is the price some people have to pay to get the bigots off their backs. I would say there is a lot in a name; a person’s pride, his heritage, and his identity.
Photo: Flickr/Alan Levine