I have been meaning to write out and post some of my experiences as a latino living in the U.S. and specifically living in a superduper white region of the United States. I was actually going to lead with a different post about a different situation, but this keeps happening so I figured I’d sit down and talk about it.
I AM A CHEESEBURGER
I went to the county fair for lunch with my coworkers. The local 4H chapter turns their facility into a little diner. It’s usually pretty good downhome cookin’ type stuff. The way it works is: You get a menu, you check what you want, write your name on it, pay, and they bring it to you when it’s ready. Each of my coworkers got their food right away except for the other guy who ordered a cheeseburger and me. Finally when the burgers were done the server came by calling for “Larry”. My coworker, whose name is, in fact, Larry, flagged her down and got his burger. A few minutes later another server left the kitchen carrying a burger, this one looked at each table and asked people who didn’t have food directly if they had ordered a cheeseburger.
“I bet that’s yours.” Said the coworker next to me.
“Yup.” I said, waving the guy down.
“Sorry,” He said putting the tray down in front of me, “They couldn’t pronounce your name and they didn’t tell me what it was.”
“Yup.” I said grabbing my plate off the tray.
This exact same thing happened just a couple of weeks ago while I and the rest of the Major Spoilers crew were driving back to Kansas from Nerdtacular. I was at a Wendy’s that, for some reason, called names, because not all of them do. I was sitting, waiting to hear my name (which I had to spell for the cashier). After a while one of my friends asked me what I ordered…
“That pretzelburger thing.”
“I think that’s yours.” He said pointing at an order sitting on the counter.
“Did they call my name?”
“No, they just called the order.”
So I went up to look and sure enough, the ticket had my name on it.
It’s something that has happened for as long as I have lived in the United States. When I was in high school my 9th grade social studies teacher gave up on my name on the first pass of the first roll call of the first day, he just called me “Lopez.” I was the only kid in the class he addressed by last name.
When I was in college I started making a little game of it. When I went out to eat with my (incidentally mostly white) friends I started giving out random (though easier to pronounce) hispanic names. Eventually my order would come up, the server would shout out “Pablo” or “Manuel” and I would go get my food to big laughs from my friends, all of whom had heard servers bail out on my actual name before.
Needless to say, I don’t shorten or change my name at restaurants anymore. I’m more than happy to spell it out, and if anyone takes just a second to sound it out, it’s actually not that hard to pronounce. But that’s actually the issue, taking that time, that little bit of time to sound it out. I know a lot of people who don’t like reading difficult words. If they come across a word with more than two syllables they literally give up and say “Whatever that says” or “I’m not reading that.” But the issue is that I’m not a chemical compound or a legal concept in latin. I’m an actual, real-life, money-carrying consumer, but the people I’m giving my business to won’t take the time to even try and pronounce my name.
And I get it, a lot of white Americans have never met a guy named Rodrigo. It’s a name that looks intimidating at first glance. Maybe they’d rather not say anything than butcher my name. Maybe they’re scared of offending me by saying my name wrong. I understand that. But by that same token they’re never going to learn how it’s pronounced if they don’t try. But that’s actually the same part of the problem. They don’t have to.
The guys that are too lazy and the guys that don’t want to accidentally offend, they’re both fine, because nothing is forcing them to learn my name. There are no consequences for calling out “cheeseburger” instead of “Rodrigo”. Unlike me they don’t need to learn to pronounce another culture’s insane names like “Hugh” (¿Jiu?), “George” (¿Yorch?), and “Eugene” (¿¿¿???). And no one’s going to make fun of them when their accent turns their tongue into a knot.
In a lot of ways that’s what it’s like to be Latino in the U.S. you have to do all the work to smooth out social situations; but the other party always has the option to bail, to reduce you to a cheeseburger and fries.
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