I work in security. For those of you who haven’t read my rants about it, it’s not as tough as it sounds. I sit in a very hot or cold little shack all day and check passes outside of a gated community. In doing so, I end up working with a lot of different cultures. One of the things that has always struck me as odd (and, in my job of checking lists and turning away accordingly, vaguely annoying) is the way a lot of Asians and Middle-Easterners westernize their names. Samir becomes Sam, Mohammed becomes Max, and Jangwoo becomes Jasmine. I understand the annoyance with outspoken, old white people who can’t pronounce their names or purposely mispronounce them (my dad). I get that fitting in is easier than sticking out. And I can sympathize with all of that in a roundabout way because I’m fat and a woman and I used to be a hardcore anime fan. Obviously I’m not saying that racism is the same as making fun of someone who owns all 26 seasons and 7 OVAs of Whatever-chan, Girl Superhero, but I understand trying to blend in.
The apparent logic falls apart though when I think about going to another country and changing my name to one of their names. If I went to the Middle East and told people my name was Suneetha or lived in Mexico for a year and said I was Estefana, I’d feel like a damn racist. Why don’t I just call everyone there Ahmed and Jose while I’m at it? I’d also feel like I was severely underestimating the national intelligence of my country of choice. If you know your name is hard to pronounce in a foreign tongue or uncommon in your new country, say it slowly, be prepared to spell it, and don’t get too hurt if it’s spelled or pronounced wrong. I’m not stupid. If you tell me your name a few times, I’ll get it no matter what it is. I can only assume the same of everyone else, give or take a few tries and not accounting for old people, who hate change and young people. I respect people more when they’re brave enough to give me their real name. Well, when they’re brave enough to just be themselves. If you’ve got a foreign name or accent or way of dress, don’t try and hide it. Own it. And if aspects of the new culture you’re immersed in are appealing, well own those too. Stupid people will always try and get you down, whatever your perceived flaw is, and the worst part is that, most of the time, they don’t even actually care.
None of these observations are new though. I went to school with Nedas and Bishoys, and a lot of the high-schoolers today feel no shame in telling people their given names are Bahar, Asad, or Ienna. That’s kind of what I love about living in the age we’re in, in the country I’m in. People worry about being singled out when they first move here, and they are regarded warily for a little while because they’re new and different. Then they make friends at work and their kids all go to school together and see that these kids aren’t any different from them, and within a couple generations everyone is accepted as normal. The strange becomes mundane and the world moves on. It’s awesome.
I guess I can’t really blame first generation Middle-Easterners and Asians for wanting to blend in when they first get here. I can’t imagine picking up my life and moving to another country, so I have to give them credit for bravery and for paving the way for their kids to be part of the All-American melting pot. Still though, if you don’t introduce your culture to us, we’ll never be able to accept it as normal. You’re laying the groundwork. The more we hear Parwaiz, Wagdy, Wei Young, Chul Ho, and the phonetic difference between Nguyen and Huynh, the less outlandish it becomes.
Feel free to weigh in if anything I’ve said was offensive or outright wrong. I say all this from the perspective of a white-washed mongrel-American.