A Letter to Betty Brown

April 10, 2009

In fact, there are a whole lot of words that come from difficult
languages that we should change. These words are
really hard too! Well, I'm here to help. I've taken the liberty of
collecting a few of them and suggesting new names for them so that it
will be easier for all of us:

Parmesan. Mozzarella. Gouda. Brie.
Why do cheeses have such funny names? Henceforth, let us just call
these all "American Cheese."

Heineken, Corona, Guinness. A gal
just wants to have a nice drink after a hard day's work, but then
you're faced with all these difficult-sounding choices at the bar. What
to do? If they're sold in America, they should have American names.
Henceforth, let us just call these "American Beer."

Tortilla. That's a word with a lot of L's in it. And together they make
a Y sound. So tricky! Henceforth, let us call them "American Round Flat
Tasty Things."

And
who wants to have pie à la mode? Why do people call it something so
fancy sounding? Really, isn't it just "with American ice cream?"
 
Chevrolet doesn't sound very American either. Let's just call them all Fords.

You
know what else is hard? The names on crayons. Sienna. Magenta.
Turquoise. Why do these names need to be so strange and exotic? Let's
just call them all Brown. Cause, you know, everything should revolve
around you!

Contributor: 

Melissa Hung

Founding Editor

Melissa Hung is the founding editor of Hyphen. She was the editor in chief for the magazine's first five years and went on to serve in many other leadership roles on the staff and board for more than a decade. She is a writer and freelance journalist. Her essays and reported stories have appeared in NPR, Vogue, Pacific Standard, Longreads, and Catapult, among others. A native Texan, she lives in California. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Comments

Comments

The actual inquiry can be seen here:I think it best to focus on the actual inquiry as it happened than just reading the newspaper articles. Seems that the issue at the core of the debate is how to standardize anglicization of names. Sure, we can go on about ignorant Texans until the cows come home, but that does little to actually make it possible for immigrants to vote.
Actually I think it should be called "Freedom Cream."The most common comment I get from clueless non-Asian people when I tell them how my two-letter last name is spelled is "Two letters? That's IT??" So maybe the problem is that it's too short and therefore anti-American. Not a good solid American name like "Limbaugh." Or "Kowalewski."http://rumandmonkey.com/widgets/toys/namegen/take.php?id=12054
Seng, If you are implying I only read the newspaper stories, I did watch the video of the proceedings. I don't think she's asking that we standardize the English spellings of our names (That Hwang and Wong and Wang and Huang be spelled the same way.)Even with our names spelled differently, they are spelled in English. So what's the problem here?Oh, they're funny names that are hard for poll workers to understand? Gee, guess we should pass some legislation about voter IDs and papers and stuff. Oh, that makes it harder to vote? Sorry!
Here's a link to the video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9hdVUzMeDwShe isn't given a fair portrayal in most of the articles I've read but even taken in context her comments are still ignorant and tactless.
Please watch the video before making any quick judgments about Betty Brown. She was specifically talking about adopting a uniform system of transliteration of foreign names to help resolve issues that voters with non-anglicized names have in identifying themselves. Please do not join the media frenzy lynch mob that is always ready to pounce when issues of cultural insensitivity come up. Look at the video instead of the newspaper articles about her quote and then judge for yourself.
Betty Brown should change her name to White Trash, so it is a better description of her character.
Sure, her you/us rhetoric reflects a limited view of what counts as American, but I will give some benefit of the doubt that the proposition was part of a brainstorming process to come up with a working solution for inclusion of people in a process, if not their names. I think the core of what Betty Brown is asking is (2:52 in the video): "Do you have any suggestion for us, something that would help the Chinese community, that would be easier on you?" and (3:45) "I'm not talking about changing your name, I'm talking about the transliteration or whatever you refer to it as, that you could use with us."As far as "our" names being "spelled in English", neither side is entirely at fault, as Ramey Ko explains (5:07), "Sometimes [immigrants] will alter the transliteration of their name... because when they first come, they give it their best shot, what they think it sounds like in English, but then they'll learn later that they should actually write it differently, etc." but also adds (6:07), "although a lot of times with [AA voters in Florida], the problem was [their] transliterated names being basically mangled in the course of being transcribed by government workers."To Lisa's comment, European immigrants had to deal with the same thing- it's not like every Polish, Russian, Italian, Irish, etc. name was properly copied or transliterated at Ellis Island, either. That's not to say it's fair, just that Asians are not being forced to deal with unique or targeted ignorance.
1. Get your Betty-Brown-Approved-Name here.2. Throw that Texan into the well after Tikki Tikki Tembo.3. Texas style, 'drive friendly' away.4. Pray there's only one of her.
Seng, It may have been a brainstorming session, and she may have been trying to be helpful, but the implications of what she said are offensive and damaging, and go beyond the misunderstanding of names.Ko refers to several Asian ethnic groups, but Brown lumps them all into "Chinese" and "your citizens," enforcing this view of Asian Americans as a) the same and b) as perpetual foreigners and not really belonging in this country. This is a very dangerous mindset.And regardless of whether she means Asian names should be changed to Westernized ones, she is asking Asian Americans to somehow make our names "easier" so that we can vote. That is messed up.And far as transliterations go, if you change your name or start going by a different spelling of your name, then you should try to make sure that all your legal documents are consistent. But the onus should not be on individuals when it comes to voting. Why should we make our names "easier" for poll workers to deal with?More on the controversial Texas voter ID billhttp://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/legislature/stories/031209dntexvoterid.250033cc.html
Update: Brown's apology:http://tinyurl.com/d4rvszAnd Ramey Ko's response:http://www.aaa-fund.com/?p=1603
I totally agree that the other remarks she makes reflect a dangerous mindset, but then why focus on her suggestion adopt a standardized name? Is it any surprise, then, that the apology responded only to that and not to the rhetoric surrounding it?I fully understand why her language is objectionable, what I don't understand is why people get worked up about bringing down a single person without putting more thought and work into the actual issue (making it easier for immigrants to vote). Do people think her removal from office will automatically mean replacement with a more culturally aware representative? I mean, she was voted into office, right- is this behavior anomalous or congruous in her constituency?My questions at this point are how have other (non-Asian) immigrant populations dealt with this and how has it effected their cultural heritage? How quickly do people forget that some names may be spelled differently after immigration but are the same in their original form? Does those changes also become a part of a people's history? And when are Asian parents going to stop giving their kids Western names so they have an easier time in their lives?To Anonymous, is my name what is written in Chinese characters or how it is pronounced in Cantonese (as it is pronounced by my family)? Is the Putongwa pronunciation as much an approximation as a written transliteration to roman characters? Could they all be my name but none of them my identity?
yeah, it's true, her ignorance was on full display there. and i think it's objectionable that she kept saying things that made it clear that asian immigrants are all chinese and aren't "americans" to her.on the other hand, after ko had corrected her ignorance on certain points, she asked him for a specific suggestion and he didn't give it to her. and frankly, the way he presented it, he pretty much SAID that many of the discrepancies came from the naturalized citizens THEMSELVES changing the spelling of their names or changing their names.i don't think it's unreasonable for government agencies to put the onus on a naturalized citizen, who has changed her name or name spelling herself, to make that change official in the appropriate bureaucratic corners.likewise, i don't think it's unreasonable to ask that the government have a specific (and easy, and bilingual) process in place for changing mistransliterated names or adding european names to non-european names. or that they have interpreters available to help with this process, especially during an election year.