The Power and Permanency of Our Names

They came, these ancient names – these Alcalás and Guevaras along with the families González, Pérez, Hernández, Ramírez, Sánchez and de la Garza and García and Barrios and Rubio and Martínez and many more – originally from different places in Spain, with heredities in the rest of Europe and Africa and the Muslim nations.

From the low hills of Burgos they came, some from Sevilla, others Valéncia, others Austurias, others Córdoba.  They came speaking Spanish and the dialects of the time. They came to what would become the Americas.  They came as Catholics, arriving in this country two centuries before the founding of Jamestown.  They came as Jews. One of the first synagogues in what would become the United States was founded in Rhode Island by Portuguese and Spanish Jews.

Many of those who crossed the ocean and were at sea for weeks would land along the would-be Mexican coast in galleons under the colors of the Catholic kings and queens of Spanish kingdoms to join a story already in progress on the new continent.  From those families, we came, converting our genealogy into a permanent voyage.

Their names return us to the very past that make us here in the present make the future.  Gazing into the past, we can see how our names comingled to form our families and our history.  We see ourselves in those names and wonder how we are who they were.

Picture them standing on wooden decks, the wide ocean around them. Imagine their faces, the wind upon them.  Consider more so the courage pushing them forward. They came seeking religious freedom or fleeing oppression or both or seeking the gold discovered in the mountains and hills and streams of New Spain, what would become México and Texas and the lands all the way to Alturas in northern California just below its present-day boundary with Oregon. Spanish explorers and Basques and Cataláns pushed as far north as Vancouver Island and now-Alaska.  In la florida, they skiffed the waves from ships anchored in emerald waves to create San Agustín and raise other cities in the hemisphere.

Like those who preceded us, we are on a voyage of discovery – and rediscovery.

If they were anything, they were hard workers, toiling upon and tilling the land, fishing the waters and forging the future.  They were a conquering people, regrettably at times treating those already here often with neither dignity nor compassion.  But, amid the mayhem, they fell in love with new, indigenous faces and made a new people. They came to love the new places, new rivers and new vistas that the people already here loved and with whom they began to parent a new chapter in history – a history we are still learning.

The mountains became the Sierra Madre and the rivers the Rio Grande, the Nueces, the Frio, the Medina, the Guadalupe, the Llano, the San Sabá and the Colorado.  Their new homes became Laredo, San Antonio, and El Paso del Norte. To the north and west, the Sacramento, the San Joaquín and the Gila helped create Albuquerque and Santa Fé and San Diego, Los Ángeles and San José and San Francisco – names now fixed in geography and in our genealogy.

Here they grew a new culture, surviving flood, fire, drought, famine, pestilence, revolution, exclusion and oppression.  All the while they worked hard.  They grew in number to help build a country, and today we – their descendants – sustain a nation whose population otherwise would recede into history. Bequeathed with beautiful names, we serve in the military, in government, in our churches, and we work in business and commerce, in schools and colleges, factories and stores and in our neighborhood, always building.

We are a growing community, instinctively yearning to find out who we are to know what we can become.  Our creative and entrepreneurial progenitors adapted to the new, while clinging to family – to ourselves – and made us the intermediaries between the past and the future, when the new that became old becomes new again.

We come from Juan and María de Jesús, Evaristo and Ana María, Manuel and Paula, Justo and Cecilio and Eulalia and Santiago but also from the indigenous already here.  We are Catholics, Protestants, Jews, agnostics, nonbelievers, freethinkers, evangelicals, gay, straight, lesbian.  We are Democrats, Republicans, independents, socialists.  We are married, intermarried, single, divorced.  We name our kids Javier and Courtney and Rafael and Heather.  We redeem the American Experiment and evolve within the American Experience.

And we give way, one generation to the next, as Nature and Nature’s God require.

While here, our genealogy infuses us with the spirit of those who long came before us, now gone, their music still in our souls, their memories lingering in space and time, their prayers our prayers.  Their spirit commits us to country, faith and home.  It is a spirit of commitment to the porvenir, the yet-to-come, and of dedication to democratic governance and human rights.  To tolerance and love, for we seek to be in union again with all of ourselves.

Our names and surnames accompany our sons, daughters and us generation upon generation. Our names are more than label, record or artifact.  They are the standards of our heritage; accords between past and future and adjoining lands.  The memories attached to our names — and the names themselves — are cherished signposts of the voyage of our families through time.

With gratitude and perspective honed by history, we remember; and with life anew are reborn to discover yet again, to find out who we are.

We have never said farewell to the past as we land in a new future.

For we are here, at home.

And always will be.

The Name is the Thing

Reading about her in the newspaper in Austin, readers came to know little about Debra J. Camacho.  Nor do they now possess insight into the lives of Telesforo Chavez Casarez; Jose Antonio Hernandez; Lydia T. Pena; Herminia Perez; Janice Arelene Quinonez; Efrain Rodriquez Esquivel.  Nor  Julia Ybarbo.  Readers do know that they died.  Theirs were eight of 40 obituaries that The Austin American-Statesman published on Sunday, August 21, 2016.  Each was a human being, beloved, no doubt, by family and friends.

The five women and three men averaged 66 years of life and work.  Some presumably bore or fathered children, and almost all presumably started life with names that carry proper accents. All carried names easily found in the Spanish lexicon.  But in the final public record and testament of their lives, some of their names were stripped – perhaps carelessly – of the dignity bestowed on them by proper accents.  Their names, in effect, were misspelled.  They should have read:

Lydia T. Peña

Telesforo Chávez Cásarez

José Antonio Hernández

Efraín Rodríquez Esquivel

Debra J. Camacho

Herminia Pérez

Janice Arelene Quiñonez

Julia Ybarbo

Whether the printing of their incomplete and unfinished names offended the relatives of these now-gone is unknown.  The dead at the end might not have cared either about their names being misrepresented.  The dying have other things on their minds.  And any individual has the right to pronounce, spell, write and accent his or her name any way he or she desires.  The First Amendment at the very least protects how one chooses to write and pronounce his or her name.  So an individual or family can choose not to pronounce and accent “Peña”, for example, properly.

Yet Peña without the ñ becomes pena, which in Spanish to knowledgeable readers means pity or pain, instead of the more positive group of supporters.  Peña without the ñ also sounds vulgar – hardly the expression families would want in a death notice, the last public evidence of a human being’s existence.

Unless a family chooses to not use accents, wanton disregard of accenting Spanish names and surnames amounts to journalistic malpractice, especially as the country’s new demography asserts itself.

Editorial negligence occurs every day in hundreds of newspapers throughout the country when a Spanish name is not accented properly.  It happens every minute across the airwaves when television producers fail to properly accent names of individuals on the screen and when their reporters do not pronounce names properly.  The same holds true on radio when an unknowing announcer massacres a name in any frequency that like any other name personifies worth and demands respect.

Journalists who do not spell or pronounce names of individuals and places correctly violate the most basic of journalism’s rules to report accurately the facts.  A journalist’s integrity takes a hit each time any name is presented improperly or mispronounced.  Beyond disrespecting human beings and devaluing them mindlessly, a journalist diminishes his or her professional integrity by demonstrating incompetence.  It is not just Hispanic/Latinos who notice.  An increasing number of non-Hispanic/Latinos now know Spanish and Spanish names and surnames.

By not requiring their staffs and systems and processes to treat Spanish names and surnames properly, media organizations chip away at the very credibility that abets the amorphous muddle that the market has become.  Some news executives have struggled – and some have failed miserably – trying to adapt to a new market in which an estimated 90 percent of Hispanics/Latinos in the United States carry an accent in at least one of their names.

Growing a news entity these days is a formidable challenge.  But at the very least, news executives should make sure that the most basic tools of their trade are not lost.  In a world in which every margin is important and new, niche markets created, the growth of the Hispanic/Latino market alone might not be a matter of life or death.

But media entities should at least keep alive and in some cases revive solid journalistic principles and practices.