The man in the photo below is of Soukias Bodukoglu. He was my grandfather and he emigrated from Istanbul to New York in the early 1960s.
My grandfather’s boss at the New York menswear factory where he worked as a fabric cutter couldn’t pronounce the name “Soukias”.
“Why do they call him Joe?” I often asked my grandmother when someone on the street would call Joe out when they saw my grandfather. “That’s what they call him at work,” she would say without even batting an eye.
“But his name is not Joe,” I thought to myself.
It was not strange to Americanize, or anglicize a person’s name when my parents and grandparents were trying to make a living in America and trying to be accepted in America more than 40 years ago. That’s just what you did.
But today, a boss trying to “plain Jane” an employee is the same as stomping on a whole nationality. Or is it?
A hotel owner in New Mexico, Larry Whitten, decided he could resurrect a failing hotel by streamlining operations, and that meant no speaking Spanish, or Hispanic sounding names among his employees.
This just happened folks. This is not a trip to workplace past.
This from the Associated Press yesterday:
No more Martin (Mahr-TEEN). It was plain-old Martin. No more Marcos. Now it would be Mark. Whitten’s management style had worked for him as he’s turned around other distressed hotels he bought in recent years across the country.
Maybe that’s how they turn things around in Texas, getting rid of all things foreign. But in most parts of the civilized world, you turn businesses around by offering better service or a better product. Right?
Well, there is something about assimilation. People like what they know. That’s why there are so many McDonald’s restaurants around the world.
But did Whitten, a tough-talking, all-American, former Marine cross the line?
Possibly. Turns out he fired some Hispanic workers. If he did so because they were singled out for refusing to change their names to sound more Anglo he may have broken a law or two with regards to discrimination.
You can’t diss workers based on national origin, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
Whether an employee or job applicant’s ancestry is Mexican, Ukrainian, Filipino, Arab, American Indian, or any other nationality, he or she is entitled to the same employment opportunities as anyone else.
That means you Joe and Mark.
But did this hotel owner really discriminate or did he just want his patrons to feel at home…American home?
Melissa Woods, a labor and employment attorney, thinks it’s ridiculous to change workers’ names, but she said it’s unclear if the guy broke any laws. “If he required every Latino to make their name more Anglo that could be a problem,” she said. “But if only certain people and certain names were changed, then that’s a gray area.”
So basically, if Whitten just wanted to make his customers’ lives easier by having everyone at his hotel sporting an easy name, and didn’t just single out one ethic group, that’s probably OK, if not a pretty bad PR move.
But, if he just went after the Perez’ and the Gonzales’ in his employ he may be in some deep discriminatory waters. (And this news on the heels of CNN’s “Hispanic in America” series.)
I’m torn on this one folks. When I told my mother about the hotel manager and his anglicizing of workers’ names, she said, “big deal.” That’s what they did to her father and to her. Her first name is Sogmen, but she decided when she came to this country and worked as an office cleaner and a seamstress that it was OK if people called her Sophie. That was easier for Americans to say and it caused her much less grief than constantly pronouncing her real name.
She did have a problem with a boss forcing workers to change their names, but she still seemed to understand the reasoning behind it. Assimilation was her mantra when she came to this country, and she did what you had to.
With a name like Tahmincioglu, I have to admit, I wondered more than once if it wouldn’t be easier for me to just take my hubby’s name or shorten the damn thing. (I use Tahmin when I make reservations, for example.)
What do you think? Are Americans just too lazy to deal with odd names? Is it better if we all just become Dick and Jane? And what the heck is an American name anyway? Garcia is one of the top ten surnames in this country, according to the Census Bureau.
Can you imagine the movie “West Side Story” if Riff were fighting Bob on the streets of New York instead of Bernardo?
My Papu became an American citizen late in life. He loved America and all it represented. He even had my mother promise that no matter what happened, or where he was, she would bury him in the United States if he happened to die outside of the country, because he loved the USA so much.
Of course, he died of a heart attack on Christmas Day 1985, on a reluctant trip he made to Athens with my grandmother. And my mom raised hell and high water to get his body sent to JFK so he could be buried in a huge cemetery in Queens, N.Y.
On his headstone it says: “Soukias”, but now I wonder if he would have minded “Joe” carved on there as well.