“Did I pronounce it right?”
The sentence that always accompanies a sympathetic smile and a wide eyed stare; it comes after I’ve spelled it, said it, and spelled it again, after a dramatic pause taken when they finally locate the drastic outlier that is my last name in real print on the roster, program, or registration list.
I always give an encouraging smile and nod my head whether or not they’ve even come close to pronouncing my name ‘correctly’, because, more often than not, I don’t have time to be interrogated as to what Native American tribe that must come from, or deal with the confused or condescending look I’m given when I tell them it’s nationality, or explain where my father is from and how my mother is white (because mulatto skin like mine couldn’t be genuine, could it).
Most of the time, I didn’t care that the preppy white girl, or the slightly racist old man, or the overzealous teacher (who loves to capitalize on my name to show the class something exotic) mispronounces my last name. I grew up with it always being misspelled and mispronounced. With my mother repeatedly spelling it as clearly as possible: A as in apple, T as in Tom, A as in apple, K as in King, P as in Peter, A as in apple over the phone and in person so that there would be no E’s or U’s placed on the record. I grew up repeating my name over and over so that people could begin to hold the pronunciation of my name in their clumsy mouths.
But sometimes, especially as I grew older, I would resent that upon first glance, seeing that my name was obviously not American, obviously not easy, people would immediately look to me as if they needed saving. Never taking the time to sound it out, never taking the time to just try to see if they could produce some sort of semblance of my name.
I would resent that my resignation to not draw attention or draw out the process regarding my name would result in me either interrupting their dramatic pause between reading my first name and seeing my last name by saying, “here” or “yes that’s me”, or end with them looking like they had committed a great act of selflessness and charity, by ‘learning’ to pronounce a little black girl’s last name. I resented that I never understood (and still don’t understand) why my last name drew so much of a struggle, when it wasn’t even one of the more “difficult” foreign names to pronounce.
Sometimes I would even resent that I didn’t have a “normal” last name.
But then I read something that changed my mind.