Finding Power In Reclaiming One's Name : Consider This from NPR You introduce yourself and then someone mispronounces your name. At that point you have to decide if you correct them or let it slide.

For many people from immigrant communities, this has been a lifelong experience. And sometimes, it's about more than mispronunciation, it can signal exclusion and disrespect. Some people even change their names in order to fit in more easily and not be "othered."

For years, LA Times columnist, Jean Guerrero, let people say her name without rolling their r's, the way it would be said in Spanish. But after becoming the target of MAGA trolls online, she decided to reclaim the proper Spanish pronunciation.

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Finding Power In Reclaiming One's Name

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Maybe you've had this experience. You're introducing yourself to someone, and they can't quite get your name right. What do you do?


MAZ JOBRANI: So then I got to come back at a certain point, and I got to find the moment when I don't sound too jerky...


JOBRANI: ...To go, listen, man, not a big deal, but just - it's actually pronounced Maz.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: And then I go through the whole thing. I go, it's like Mazda, Mazatlan, Maserati, Lamaze.


RAJA: Yup.

JOBRANI: And I just hope it sticks.

MARTIN: That's comedian Maz Jobrani talking to our colleagues at Code Switch about how he deals with people who can't or maybe won't say his name correctly. He's not alone. It's an experience shared by many, especially people from immigrant backgrounds. For some people, having their name mispronounced is no big deal. For others, depending on how it goes down, it stings. It can signal criticism and exclusion, like being told, you're not part of this. You don't have the right kind of name.

When friends Luvvie Ajayi Jones and Tiffany Aliche were growing up, it felt easier to just change their names completely. They swapped stories for the NPR series Where We Come From.


LUVVIE AJAYI JONES: Ifeoluwa - that's, like, my first name. My family calls me Ife (ph). My name means God's love. So the Ife part is the love. My aunt used to sometimes call me Lovette (ph).

MARTIN: Luvvie Ajayi Jones moved to the U.S. from Nigeria at the age of 9 and remembers the day she was asked to introduce herself to her new classmates in Chicago.

AJAYI JONES: Nine-year-old me was instantly like, my name is too different. The way I'm talking is too different. It's not going to work. So when the teacher goes, introduce yourself, I go, my name is Lovette. And of course it came out real Naija (ph) - (speaking with Nigerian accent) my name is Lovette.

MARTIN: Tiffany Aliche remembers taking on a new name at the same age.

TIFFANY ALICHE: Up until 9, everyone - friends - everyone called me Odochi, which means God's gift or God's present.

MARTIN: The summer before her family moved from a small town of mostly Black and brown families to a larger, predominantly white town, her father said that she and her sisters could choose new names to make it easier for them to fit in.

ALICHE: I was excited, you know? I didn't think anything of it. I was like, yes. So my sisters and I would try out names. And I would say, OK, this week, call me Jenny (ph). And then I remember I wanted Renee (ph).


ALICHE: I liked Renee. I could see myself as a Renee, you know?


ALICHE: And then - oh, thank goodness my dad said no, but I wanted Symphony (ph). I was like, oh, yes.

AJAYI JONES: Ma'am, Symphony though?

ALICHE: (Laughter) Yes. I said, it's different. He said, too different.

MARTIN: Finally, she went with Tiffany.

ALICHE: I just think it's so interesting how...

AJAYI JONES: You take on this new name.

ALICHE: Yes, but in an effort to protect what we held dear, which is our true identity.


MARTIN: Some people feel protected by taking on other names, safe-keeping their sense of self, sidestepping the constant explaining and correcting. But for others, using a given name with all of the history it contains can be a source of power.

JEAN GUERRERO: I want people to understand that I'm proud of who I am and where I come from. I want these people snarling at me to, you know, shrivel at the sound of my name.

MARTIN: CONSIDER THIS. For people of color from immigrant communities, using a given name can be complicated. For one journalist, reclaiming the proper pronunciation of her name was an act of defiance.


MARTIN: That's coming up. From NPR, I'm Michel Martin. It's Saturday, April 23.

It's CONSIDER THIS from NPR. Jean Guerrero will now be called...

GUERRERO: (Rolling R's) Jean Guerrero.

MARTIN: Hear the difference? For years, the LA Times columnist accepted the Anglicized Ger-erro (ph), a pronunciation that she says was forced upon her beginning in grade school.

GUERRERO: I grew up in San Diego, on the border with Tijuana, with a Mexican dad and a Puerto Rican mom. Spanish was my first language. But I went to a private Episcopalian elementary school, where it was against the rules to speak Spanish. And if we were caught speaking Spanish, we had to stay in detention and we had to write, I will not speak Spanish, I will not speak Spanish, a hundred times.

MARTIN: She says the political climate only helped to reinforce the school's policies.

GUERRERO: This was during a period of intense anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant hate in California. And, you know, I wanted to do well in school. And so I internalized, you know, the teacher's disdain for Spanish. And I adopted that identity as Jean Guerrero.

MARTIN: At home, Guerrero's mom didn't question the shift to English.

GUERRERO: The thing is that she came from Puerto Rico, where they also have, you know, this English-language supremacy, like decades of U.S. colonial policies that cast English as a superior language. So she would speak to me in Spanish because she still, you know, struggled with English. But I would respond in English, and she was OK with that.

MARTIN: It's interesting to note that most of the children at Guerrero's school were from immigrant or Spanish-speaking families, families who had big hopes for their kids to be accepted in mainland, mainstream America. Like many before them, they believed that the faster they learned English, the better.

GUERRERO: But what happened is, like, this ended up, in many cases, supplanting our native language.

MARTIN: Being forced to turn away from Spanish created a painful separation between Guerrero and her family and took a toll on her most cherished relationships.

GUERRERO: For example, my Mexican abuelita, my grandmother on my dad's side, she didn't speak any English at all. And so it became very difficult for us to communicate. And just - this internalized English-language supremacy. Like, what it did was, like, it created, like, a real - I don't know - like, this, like - almost like self-hatred.

MARTIN: Many years later, while reading a book by Reyna Grande, she found a phrase to describe this - subtractive bilingualism.

GUERRERO: This practice of forcing children to stop speaking their native language and to see it as something bad also causes children to internalize this disdain - you know, the dominant white culture's disdain for their own culture and their own selves. And for me, what that did is it created a lot of self-destructive behavior where I was, you know, cutting my wrists as a teenager. I was, you know, binge drinking, drug abuse, a lot of self-destructive behavior.

And then also, like, my mother, when she would make mistakes in English, you know, I would correct her. And I would say really, you know, monstrous things, like learn English, in this condescending way - like, echoing the voices of so many bigoted people who attack, you know, Mexican people, Puerto Rican people, Latinos in our country and other people of different backgrounds who don't necessarily speak English perfectly.


MARTIN: That is part of why Guerrero decided to take back her name in a very public way.

GUERRERO: I just feel like the more that we talk about this - the more we talk about how common it is to internalize that white supremacist outlook on our own families, on our own cultures - like, the more it opens up a pathway to healing.


MARTIN: Coming up, Jean Guerrero reflects on the online hate that led to her column "For Years, I Anglicized My Mexican Last Name. MAGA Trolls Inspired Me To Reclaim It."

After working as a journalist in Mexico, where she used the Spanish pronunciation of her name, Jean Guerrero returned to the United States to cover immigration for public radio and television.

GUERRERO: I remember asking myself when I was signing off of stories like, do I want to refer to myself as Jean Guerrero or as (speaking with Spanish accent) Jean Guerrero? And ultimately, I chose the Anglicized version because I - there was something - like, there was some feeling in me that I was going to be judged by my mostly white managers as trying to be provocative or something if I claimed (rolling R's) Jean Guerrero. So I - again, I reverted to this Anglicized pronunciation and didn't think much about how I was pronouncing my name.

MARTIN: Until Donald Trump became president and she began reporting on the rise of white nationalism and the Trump administration's immigration policies, policies that many considered racist. When Guerrero wrote "Hatemonger," a book about former Trump aide Stephen Miller, described as the architect of some of the former president's most controversial immigration policies, the racist trolls came out in full force.

GUERRERO: I had received some hatred before, but it was nothing compared to what came after my book. That, you know, resulted in just a flood of hatred that was based almost entirely around my identity as a Mexican and Puerto Rican woman, where people were sending me racial slurs, telling me that I should be deported to Mexico - you know, very much attacking my family and, like, who - where I come from.

And so that is what made me all of a sudden want to say (rolling R's) Jean Guerrero. Like, that is who I am, and I want people - you know, I want people to understand that I'm proud of who I am and where I come from. And it was sort of like an act of resistance against that hatred that was very much based on, you know, hatred towards my family.

MARTIN: It's interesting because I think some people might have gone the other way. They might have thought, well, you know what? I don't need the hassle. Can you talk a little bit more about what that feels like to reclaim your name in the way that it is meant to be pronounced?

GUERRERO: You know, it's so - it's such a good question because there is, like, a very strong feeling. You know, like, I feel embodied. I feel, like, deeply rooted in my ancestors and my mother's sacrifices for me, my abuelita, my grandmother - you know, I feel them inside of me. Like, I feel fuller and I feel different.

MARTIN: She acknowledges that other people may feel differently.

GUERRERO: This isn't for everybody. Like, there's many valid and powerful ways to show pride in our cultures and in where we come from.

MARTIN: Guerrero knows that some people will mispronounce her name, but she does want them to try and get it right.

GUERRERO: I understand that not everybody can roll their R's and not everyone is going to be able to say my name or everybody's name correctly. You know, while I was reporting this column, I spoke to a student from India at UCLA. His name is Shubham Gupta, and that's not a name that comes naturally to me. And I feel like that's OK. Like, you know, just, like, putting in the effort, I think, is what matters the most. You know, when somebody teaches us how to say their name, we shouldn't see it as a burden. I think we often do see it as a burden. But we should see it as a gift.


MARTIN: That was Jean Guerrero, journalist, author and LA Times opinion columnist.


MARTIN: It's CONSIDER THIS from NPR. I'm Michel Martin.

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