Ethnic Last Names, Immigration, And Why Some Prejudices Are More Laughable Than Angering

April 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

All of this:

With the Democratic primary just days away, state and local party leaders are ripping into David Krikorian, one of the hopefuls to challenge GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt in November, for disparaging remarks he’s made recently about his chief primary opponent, Surya Yalamanchili.

According to accounts given to local politicians, Krikorian has appeared at campaign events to ridicule Yalamanchili, an American of Indian descent, by dramatically pronouncing his name to emphasize its foreign nature.

“Now do you really think that a guy with a name like that has a chance of ever being elected?” Krikorian allegedly said to members of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Clermont County.

The comments —  which Krikorian denies – drew a quick response from local Democratic leaders, who shot off a letter to Krikorian Wednesday calling his behavior “deeply disturbing.”

One, contrast this quick-and-rightful-quashing with the response of the GOP to any insensitive remark. George Allen and macaca? Much ado about nothing, an overreported attempt to derail the campaign. So at least the Dems, for all their pockmarks, have a nonzero quantity of political savvy that the Republicans seem to lack.

Two, the irony of a man named Krikorian poking fun at an ethnic name in an “old-boy club” kind of way should make anyone familiar with more than 70 years of American history giggle.

Three, the man’s behavior, while wrong and based on a worldview I would probably never call similar to my own, seems so…quaint and nonthreateningly backwards, so much so that I find myself shrugging and saying “meh, let him be stupid.” I dunno, I’ve probably internalized too much writing on demographic trends, technology trends, public opinion trends, and all other forward-seeking stuff, but the idea of a person mocking an ethnic last name seems really out-0f-the-loop. It’s canonical science to me that “Joe Sixpack” in 50 years will be a tech worker who’s at least biracial and an amalgam of roughly 6 ethnic traditions and is totally gay-friendly and prefers soccer to baseball. I’m more than okay with this: I think I’d actually prefer that Joe Sixpack to several dozen of my friends who spend too much time trying to get me to listen to Bon Iver.

In any case– man, just look at the numbers and look at the local church and local law firm and your child’s teachers: the name Yalamanchili probably doesn’t crack the top 10 weirdest, where ever you live. I mean, we just had an NFL draft where Sam Bradford was followed by Ndamukong Suh. Justly so.

Our country, though it might have started as a British club, wandered into a holocaust or two (both black and American Indian), clinched our ass a time or two with some good ol’ Puritanism nannying, and facepalmed our way through the 20th century into a screechy and squawky 21st century full of overworrying, we have a tradition of allowing anyone’s who’s willing to take their best shot at life to come here and set up shop. It’s worked pretty well– if you were to take away the contributions from immigrants and the children of immigrants, the US would roughly look like Suriname– despite some of us doing our level best to keep those people out.

I understand that we need to hold our public officials to standards of decency and that this man with his ridiculous opinions might possibly wield federal power (though after this little row it seems highly unlikely). But anyone who thinks that a last name of Hornung or Robinson signifies a more desirable person than a last name of Thrapapong, Nchukwe, or Gonzalez is so anachronistic and old and frightened by change that I’m more likely to ignore him and let him grumble his way to sleep in his nursing home wheelchair than engage him in debate.

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