May 6, 2009

A recent news item from Texas is getting lots of attention from Asian Americans. In a hearing on voter registration legislation, Republican state representative Betty Brown asked Ramey Ko of the Organization of Chinese Americans if it wouldn’t “behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?”
You can view the full exchange on YouTube. I’m surprised Ko answered so calmly. I’d have had a hard time not pointing out that while Brown may see Asian Americans as “you” compared to her idea of “we” (presumably white folks), in fact both are Americans. I mean, we’re talking about voter registration, aren’t we? Brown asks the Chinese American about “your citizens.” Whose citizens would those be if not U.S. citizens? Brown at first refused to apologize, as her spokesperson stated that “Democrats want this to just be about race.” Eventually she issued a tepid apology under pressure.

The story reminded us of Densho’s latest “From the Archive” article, which happens to be about how Caucasians frequently gave “American” names to Nisei because they just couldn’t pronounce those crazy Japanese names. Read “Hatsuji Becomes Harry: Names and Nisei Identity” here.