Express Yourself

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April 14, 2009

Texas State Rep. Betty Brown blunder

Some people don’t appreciate the beauty of multiculturalism; some people would rather that everyone looked the same, spoke the same language, ate the same food, practiced the same religion, and raise their families with the same cultural norms. Some people would seemingly prefer to live inside a giant magic bubble, then move and adjust with the times. Some people are ignorant, ethno/cultural-centric, and in my humble opinion, just plain stupid.

Case in point: This week’s magnificent blunder by Texas State Rep. Betty Brown! The story was broken earlier in the week by, and has been generating interest (and outrage!) across North America ever since. Betty Brown has put forward the idea of Chinese (yes, specifically Chinese)-Americans adopting English-sounding names, to aid with pronunciation issues. Here’s the quote: “Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese – I understand it’s a rather difficult language – do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with readily here?…Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?Wow. Her spokesman is outraged that her statement is being taken to be a comment on “race” – as opposed to what?

1)   Since when do you have to learn an entire language just to pronounce someone’s name? I have friends from many different countries; I don’t speak their first language, but I can pronounce their name just fine.

2)   “You and your citizens” – what a lovely, euphemistic way of saying “you and your kind” – as opposed to regular Americans, I suppose? Aren’t Chinese-Americans American citizens?

3)   Adopting a name just for identification – I thought the US was trying to crack down on identity issues, with there whole “war on terror” thing? Isn’t encouraging citizens to have an official “alias” counterintuitive to this intiative?

4)   Unofficially, many Chinese people (Asian people in general) do have English names they use for everyday conversations – you just have to ask. I’ve worked with quite a few Asian people over the years, and many of them would introduce themselves with both names, or with their first-language name, followed by “or you can call me ______________” so there is an option. However, since Mrs. Brown is talking about polling and government-related issues, I still don’t see how this is a good idea.

5)   Why is she picking on the Chinese specifically? Hasn’t she ever met someone from Poland, from example? Oh wait, Polish people are white – never mind. White Americans with hard-to-pronounce names are just fine, I’m sure.

6)   “…easier for Americans to deal with” – which Americans, exactly? Americans who are unable to figure out how to pronounce someone’s name? Americans who are afraid to say, “I’m sorry, could you repeat your name for me? I’d like to make sure I’m pronouncing it correctly.”

I’m white, and my family’s last name is Scottish. It’s only 5 letters long, but gets mispronounced ALL THE TIME. Apparently if I ever decide to move to Texas, I have to find a nice “American” name – like Brown, apparently.

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