Name by Default, Not by Choice
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“¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás?” my kindergarten teacher says as she hands my assignment to me in complete Spanish.
She pauses and then says, “¿Usted no hablo español?”
At that point she must have seen my face. The confusion filled the room and then a thunder of laughter surrounded me.
On May 31st, 1999 an incredibly tall baby boy was born, ME. Big brown eyes and enormous ears to match my chocolate complexion.
“Ricardo Andre Martin Jr” my mother says as she gazes upon my newborn face.
In my family, the first born son must be named after his father. Anyone who did otherwise was seen as a bad parent. Fortunately, I had the luxury of having both parents there at my birth, unlike some. I never saw a problem with my name until I started school. I have had many people try to speak to me in Spanish just because my name sounds Hispanic. I never knew someone could stereotype a name.
On one occasion a substitute was taking role in my fifth grade class. She said my name and instantly looked at the mixture of Hispanic kids in my class. She was looking for the “Ricardo Martin” in the class.
I said, “I’m here” with a concerned face.
She turns around to look at me and burst out with a sickening laugh, almost witch-like.
“Boy stop playing. I have no time for games,” she said.
Then she said with force again “Where is Ricardo Martin?”
She didn’t believe me at all. She didn’t believe the other kids when they told her that I wasn’t lying. I was marked absent that day.
Major problems didn’t start until I started looking for jobs when I was 16. I’d fill out each of the applications and answer all of the demographics questions. Despite answering the questions that said I was black what I heard when the company called me for a job interview was shocking.
“I’m sorry that I took forever to call you. I’m so glad that I found someone who could speak Spanish,” the employer says when I answer the phone.
“Did you learn to speak it in your native country, Ricardo?” the employer said.
I immediately hung up the phone. I was enraged. Another job gone down the drain. I couldn’t understand why this kept happening.
Although I love Latino heritage, I have none of it in my blood. My ancestors are Irish and Egyptian, not Dominican or Puerto Rican. I can drink horchata and eat quesadillas everyday yet that is still not my culture.
I am born of African, Native American, and Irish decent and my ancestors were slaves. For years, people always asked me if I was Latino because of my name. No, I am more than my name. My name does NOT determine my culture or the language I speak.