When I order a coffee, I always tell the cashier my name is Isabelle. The daunting task of pronouncing and spelling out Naheil several times becomes shockingly unrewarding once the clueless barista offers up a beverage for Michael, Miguel, or “NNNN. Umm. Nile. Whose drink is this?”
I figure I’m not selling anyone short because the transaction lasts all of two minutes and let’s be honest – the overworked and underpaid Starbucks guy doesn’t really care what my name is.
But being asked by a Texas representative to change my name for the purpose of actual identity is both ridiculous and offensive.
At a Texas House of Representatives Elections Committee hearing on April 7 regarding the possibility of passing legislation requiring voter IDs, Republican state Rep. Betty Brown from Terrell suggested that Asian-Americans should adopt a name that Americans could more easily deal with. This short-sighted comment effectively alienated and showed her complete lack of sensitivity to many of her international constituents.
We should be able to hold our state representatives to high standards of international knowledge. Doesn’t Brown realize how difficult it would be for people in some other nations to pronounce Betty?
One could argue that immigrants should assimilate American culture as part of a host-guest relationship, but the “when in Rome” concept doesn’t apply in a nation that was founded by immigrants and has become a self-proclaimed melting pot.
Also, her suggestion involves two parties: “Asian-Americans” and “Americans.” Her separation of the two groups implies that Asian-Americans are not also Americans.
A name is more than a series of letters on a piece of paper. For many of us, it’s our first recollection of identity. It’s something that many people are proud of and should not have to change in order to have a voice in state affairs. To strip anyone of it would be humiliating and unfair.
Having to repeat one’s legal name several times in a social situation makes one feel more than enough out of place, and tacking on the requirement of altering one’s identity in order to register for a voter ID would only further separate immigrants from American-born citizens.
Brown’s apology acknowledging the “diversity of Texas” and the “enrichment” that Asian-Americans have brought to the state seemed insincere and forced and was not enough to sway those she had already distanced.
Her initial idea that anyone should have to change his or her identity to facilitate the voting process – something that symbolizes a person’s individuality and political voice – makes it clear that she doesn’t have a global vision, which should be expected of our representatives.
Naheil Qudah is a senior marketing major from Amman, Jordan.