National Organization for Women/ PO Box 1848/ Merrifield, VA 22116-9899
Houston Chronicle: Lawmaker defends comment on Asians
when Ramey Ko from the Organization of Chinese Americans addressed the Texas State House about voter identification legislation and name ID discrepancy issues (often between legal transliterate names and within the Asian American community, Representative Betty Brown asked “Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?”. check out the video here.
WHOA. so many things: that she asks Mr. Ko and OCA to behoove “its” citizens, like they have any sort of power or control over the entire Asian American population to urge them to change their names. while i understand Mr. Ko represents the Organization of Chinese Americans, Representative Brown continually asking questions about the Chinese, Chinese names, and elections back in China is another case of ignorant non-Asians assuming all Asians are Chinese. that Rep. Brown just wants people to change their names for the ease of others and the American English system downplays the significance of names and an aspect of one’s identity to the outside world, and maybe even more etymologically and culturally interesting/silly is that Rep. Brown’s name is “Betty Brown”. it’s true that many Asian Americans have casually adopted names like “Stan”, “Robert” or “Sally” so communication with American counterparts is easier, but that is their own choice. i have wondered how my life would be different if i went by my Chinese name “Yiming” instead of Iris. but choice of identification and representation is key here because it’s personal and individual. i watched Affair of the Necklace last night (wouldn’t recommend it except to look at French period clothing and Adrian Brody or Simon Baker with long curly hair), but the story is about one girl trying to restore her family’s name, and thus reputation. while speaking in front of the court, Jeanne de la Motte-Valois pleads ‘Monsieur, you out of all people know the importance of a [god-given] name and a home where it can flourish…’
Statements from Representative Brown’s office initially said the quote was taken out of context, and the “race card” was being used to divert attention from the real issue of voter identification. However, in recent days since Thursday, she has released an apology through her office and through a personal phone call to Ramey Ko. I have to agree with Mr. Ko’s reaction, because an apology about simply the phrasing Rep. Brown used disregards the heavy implication behind her words, even in the broadest terms of cultural and ethnic identity, the ‘minority’ concept, and who is an american. Rep. Brown may not think she’s being racist, elitist, or coming from a position of privilege (race, class, government representative, etc), and that too big of a deal was made out of nothing, but her comments, whether or not implied, point to deeper points of discrimination we all still need to deal with: yes, most people agree that everyone is (for the most part) equal, but past that one thin, superficial line – there is more complex thinking and processing about implications and equality to what extent that still needs to be done.