I've Become 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 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 little cruds 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 ethnicity 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.

0 Responses

  1. Interesting scenario. I am going to have to start looking at the vowels in a persons name.

  2. By Harris County Clerk’s office standards, I am Nordic.
    To pre-judge someone by their surname seems outdated today.

  3. Margaret—I follow the rule when it suits me but not when considering a former Mayor of New Yrok City running for President.

    medicale—That would be Minnesota where they track Nordic voters.

    Thanks for both comments.

  4. TL: “That would be Minnesota where they track Nordic voters. ”

    That’s my point. the name doesn’t tell the whole story. Names don’t mean much anymore, unless one is an advanced age and male.
    To wit: I have know many Latin surnamed people. Blonde, blue-eyed people from Spain, to Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central American, Brasilian, to Filipino!

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.

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A Letter to America

The Thirteeneth Juror

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