Change Your Name

Hot on the heels of Miley Cyrus’ film going box office gold with nary a reference to the now infamous Asian-face photo, Texas Legislature Betty Brown has told Asians in the state that they need to change their names to “make it easier” for “Americans” to deal with their documentation. You go out of town . . . the whole world goes crazy . . .

Here’s the actual meeting:

There are several issues in this interaction between Brown and an advocate, Ramey Ko, at last weeks meeting about Voter ID legislation in Texas and barriers Asian-Americans are facing. Brown implies more than once that Asian immigrants are not “Americans,” that they are willfully demanding something from the state that they could not get back in “China” – the rep she was speaking to was from OCA  – and/or stupid – ie, too stupid to keep their paperwork. She also seems to struggle with what to call Asian-Americans throughout the exchange, calling them “your co-workers,” “your group,” “your people,” etc. everything but Asian-Americans or if she wanted to only address the OCA, Chinese-Americans. She places the onus on keeping track of documentation on Asian-Americans and not on the system, despite repeated evidence presented that the problem lies in how the documentation is being produced and tracked. While keeping documentation 20-30 years after one has received it, normally does positively impact the process, it can have little to no bearing if people’s names have been spelled incorrectly or entered into a database incorrectly. Worse, Brown’s suggestion of transliteration would likely exacerbate this situation.

When I originally heard this story, Brown was refusing to apologize for her comments. She stated that she was addressing “transliteration” and not actually asking Ko, or anyone else, to change their name. However, on Saturday, she apologized from a prepared statement where she also said she understands diversity and celebrates what Asian Americans have brought to the state.

Ultimately, the exchange between Brown and Ko highlights the ease of discrimination with regards to identity cards, the issue that they were discussing. As Ko points out, the failure of  the government to ensure cultural competency in its agencies that deal with diversity regularly has resulted in an undue burden on legalized immigrant populations. The insistence on ID cards will falsely dienfranchise numerous immigrants as a result. The very discussion of this potential to prevent legal voters from voting highlighted how this could happen, when a member of the legislature suggested people simply anglicize their names rather than deal with the cultural incompetence at the root of the problem.

I.D. cards have been proven to discourage elders, immigrants, and communities of color from voting. Generally speaking, the latter two groups (which both contain the former) are thought to vote more liberally than other constituencies so that there is a vested interest in finding seemingly legal means to disenfranchise them in conservative districts.

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