Jamie Spain, Medill, Immigrant Connect
When the hostess brings the brown paper sack to the front of the restaurant, she looks at the receipt and calls out the name on the carry-out order. We’d been waiting for a short time for the tacos that my sister Sara’s boyfriend is craving.
“Jorge?” the hostess calls out in between rapid fire Spanish.
Sara’s boyfriend steps closer to the desk, ready to grab the steaming take-out. The hostess takes one look at his porcelain complexion, blue eyes, and neatly combed blond hair. Her eyes skip over him, searching for the person behind the traditionally Hispanic name.
“Jorge?” she calls again.
“That’s me,” he says. Once he opens his mouth, his Latino accent makes it apparent he’s the person.
The hostess’ eyes brighten when he tosses out a quick phrase in Spanish. After a few minutes of conversation between the two, none of which my ten years of Spanish seems to help me understand, he returns to where my sister and I are standing, now carrying a hefty bag of tacos.
The Nicaraguan woman and Guatemalan man who raised him named him Jorge. At home in Nicaragua, he is Jorge. In his native language, his family and friends know him by his given name.
In the United States where he now lives and is a citizen by birth, Jorge goes by another name that is less foreign to the American tongues who pronounce it: George.
On the top of his resume, he uses his given name when applying to jobs in Miami and ponders changing it when applying to jobs in Ohio. I often wonder about situational differences, which persona can hurt him at any given moment, and which can get his foot in the door. What does it feel like to switch so fluidly between the two: white-passing George and Latino Jorge.
At work in the Midwest, he goes by George. When he picked up the phone one day to speak with a client, the woman ridiculed him and asked to speak to “a citizen.” An American, she said. She refused to speak politely with him since his accent rang so clearly through the phone.
His resume, with a prestigious U.S. college prominently placed and a few American jobs under his belt, could almost pass for an average American male, ass long as he topped it off with his Americanized name.
When he first met my family, he stuck out a hand and said, “Hello, my name is George.” Yet, when sitting down at the restaurant for my birthday, he was Jorge to the waiter whose accent he quickly placed. They conversed in Spanish.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem that big of a deal for him to introduce himself as George, almost like a nickname. But there is something deeper. In feeling compelled to change his name when in different company, he must know that he can seldom be his true self. He has to give his Americanized name to make the Americans around him feel more comfortable calling it out. He must jump through hoops to create the impression that he is Latino, but not THAT Latino. It’s as if he’s forced to cut out his culture so that if you squint, you can completely erase it and boil him down to American.