This past summer, I went to the National AP Teachers’ Convention in San Antonio. Firoozeh Dumas was one of the speakers & I fell in love with her style of presenting. She shared a story about how while touring she would always talk about people from other countries changing their names in order to make it easier on the Americans – you know – pronunciation can be tricky. What made it humorous? Russ talks about this all the time.
My husband is tall & brown & has a mop of beautifully curly hair. Many, many people have questioned him about his ethnicity – despite his last name being, um…Ramirez – and Russ has developed a story that (for whatever reason) people believe.
He tells them his family is from Kuwait.
And then, when the eyebrows begin to burrow in confusion & people wonder about his Spanish heritage, Russ just shrugs his shoulders & says, “we came to Texas, looked for a different last name to acclimate ourselves to society, found one often repeated in the phone book, but had no idea it was hispanic.” He then smiles & says, “kind of funny if you think about it. A guy from the Middle East with a hispanic last name?”
I know. I know. Every time he shares this story & people believe him I wince. If I am lucky enough to be there – I usually set the record straight & share that I am not the only storyteller within our small family of two. Russ has as much imagination as I do – and more.
So, when Dumas shared this story I laughed and breathed a sigh of relief. Finally! Another person who would understand. I went & bought her books, anxious to read her perspective of growing up Iranian in America, and walked over to the table where she was giving autographs.
“Hi! It was so great hearing your stories. I thought they were hilarious – especially the one about immigrants changing their last names? My husband tells that story all the time – except he isn’t an immigrant. He tells people he’s from the Middle East and…”
I could see her eyes glaze over. I could see boredom (or apathy? perhaps even anger at my audacity? who knows…) Needless to say, I wrapped up my story in quite the lackluster fashion & accepted my books freshly stamped with the permament marker scent of her name. She gave me one of those “nice-to-meet-you-hope-to-never-see-you-again” type smiles & I awkwardly turned around to leave.
Despite our less than stellar introduction, I did enjoy her books. Light reads – easy enough to finish within a day – both of them held enough weight to force you to contemplate her words once finished. Misconceptions about who you are simply because of your name is nothing new to me. I’m a white girl with a very hispanic name – it seems to roll off peoples’ tongues in automatic accents – however, I have no clue what Dumas’ family endured simply because where they came from happened to be (and still is) under negative attention from the media.
I encourage you to pick these copies up next time you are at the library or bookstore. Dumas is funny. You will find yourself laughing out loud at some of the stories she shares about her family. However, don’t let the hidden weight miss its target. We may be vastly different from each other, we may be from completely different worlds where it’s hard to connect, but the lesson remains the same: we’re all in this together.
And as Dumas says in Laughing Without an Accent, “ultimately, it doesn’t matter where we learn that lesson. It’s just important that we do.”