Sometime in the early ’90s, when Mexicans and other Latin Americans began to flood into Nashville, a news editor asked me this question:
“What’s this guy’s real last name?”
I told him both were the guy’s real last name.
But, the names are not hyphenated, so do we have to use both of them during second attribution?
I think so, I said. He’s Mexican. They use both last names.
Yes, my editor said, but isn’t one of those names his mother’s last name?
Yes, the last one.
So, the first last name is his father’s name?
So, that is his real last name?
His real last name is both last names.
Why don’t you have two last names?
My family doesn’t use that anymore. This guy does, as do many Latin Americans.
OK, so what do we do?
You know what we did? We chopped Mami’s name off on second attribution. So, if the guy’s name was Jose Perez Prado (’cause I can’t remember the real name), we used Perez the next time he was quoted in the story. And no doubt we did 100 different other versions in subsequent stories, and of course how we did it depended on whom was writing the story and whom was editing it. I have no idea what the policy is these days, as I have long since fled the newsroom. But, I bet plenty of the Latinos in town now know that the Americans don’t understand the two last names thing and they only give one during interviews.
Which brings me to this book: René Has Two Last Names/René Tiene Dos Apellidos, a bilingual children’s book about a boy from El Salvador who teaches his American classmates why he has two last names. They come from his father’s side, and his mother’s side. Without both — Colato Laínez – he would feel like “a hamburger without the meat.”
The book is written by an author of the same name, René Colato Laínez. Colato Laínez, a teacher, has written several picture books including the award-winning I Am René, the Boy / Soy René, el niño. The author has told other bloggers during his book tour that he writes to preserve and celebrate his culture. As a child he longed for books about children like him — immigrant children with two cultures. And these days it is common for Latino parents to thank him for writing their story too.
His next book is The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Perez — American fairy meets her Latin American and Spanish counterpart, who happens to be a mouse. The release date is March. The author tells a hilarious and scary story about a child telling friends about the mouse who visits his house regularly and a teacher who believes the child is living in filth and needs to call social services. Hence, the idea for the book.
Now, I loved reading the René book to Maria — and she enjoyed it — because my American child of Latino descent has two last names too. Yes, we gave our child four names. In between her Middle Name and Paternal Last Name is her Maternal Grandmother’s Last Name. We did it to honor my grandfather, whom I loved and adored, and the strong, courageous and crazy Cubans in her bloodline.
Sometimes, I have wondered if we saddled her with too much nombre, but she says her name in a sing-song way and matter-of-factly to anyone who asks for her full name. She tells them that extra name comes from her mom’s abuelito.. And, I just stand there and grin.
So, we have appreciated René and his two last names around here. He has given us the opportunity to discuss how people in different countries name their children, and he’s given us more time to talk about members of our family she never got to meet, hear a little more about where they came from — a place so different from the one she calls home.
I can especially see how important this little book would be to children whose families have recently immigrated to the United States, and to the people they encounter at school, church and activities.
As much as I’m glad to have the book on our shelf, gotta tell you, I’m thinking of dropping off my copy of the book at my old newsroom. Just in case they’re having the same discussion from the ’90s.
Ojala que no.
OK, win a prize:
Leave a comment or question for the author and you will be eligible to win an autographed copy of RENÉ HAS TWO LAST NAMES/ RENÉ TIENE DOS APELLIDOS. Make sure you check back the following day to see if you won and for directions on how to receive your prize. The winner will be selected using Random.org.
This review is part of a virtual book tour sponsored by BronzeWord, a great resource for Latino books and authors.
(How many names do you have, by the way?)