Sylvia Rosales-Fike on Family & that Hyphen Thing

“Is it Rosales or Fike, or both?” the nurse asked while looking at the intake form my son had to sign for surgery check-in.

“It’s hyphenated,” he clarified.

“There is no hyphen here,” she puzzled. “Does it need a hyphen? How is it spelled on your insurance?” she implored while a second nurse in a higher-rank-white scrubs and nice hairdo walked in and begged to be included in the name debate. “I think you need to go check the insurance form and make sure it is consistent,” she ordered the other nurse.

My mouth kicked into automatic-panic-mode intervention: “It should say Fike-Rosales, with a hyphen,” I insisted. “You see, his dad is Fike and I am Rosales,” I politely added in an empathetic tone that sounded more like “and you better respect our culture madam, therefore Fike is first and then a hyphen and then Rosales!”

My son, bare and uncomfortable under the dreadful hospital faded-white-and-blue gown, was searching for the back string that would help cover up his unprotected self. He mumbled in reference to the deliberation: “The story of my life,” while rolling his eyes.

“Do you always encounter problems with your name?” I asked as if it were new to me – the woman who, for over 25 years, has been educating and re-educating the system about the Latin way for last names. “People learn!” I lectured him, “But you may want to change your name to make it easier. Maybe drop my name,” I said while my inner voice cried out in disbelief for the retreat and defeat I was taking in my life-long battle with the”American way of names.”

The making of cultures in this country has been well represented by the dos and don’ts in surnames. It is popular knowledge how older generations of immigrants adapted or completely changed their original names to assimilate and appear American — meaning of British descent.

Happily, the 60s brought us a new wave of name independence. Immigrants and women began to assert their own names, sometimes with a hyphen in the middle — a way to say: “I am my own person, my own gender, my own culture and I make America also.”

It is refreshing to hear Detroiters say names such as Popovich, Chang, Gutierrez, and yes, the many hyphenated ones like Petrokowsky-Johnson or, Fike-Rosales!

Name Please? (Ellis Island, circa 1900)

But new generations bring new priorities. The new high-tech generation values pragmatism. A few months ago, my sister and I emailed with our respective daughters entering married life about the question of their future names.

I was startled to learn my daughter was considering taking her husband’s and the possibility of dropping her politically-correct given hyphen. My niece was leaning toward keeping the hyphen because research shows women with hyphenated names do better in the corporate world. Go figure.

As I reflect on the heart of the matter behind my chosen name, I know my choice was about culture and gender in a generational era where diversity was the new social challenge and goal.

However, as times evolve, I am called to do my own part. It is my turn to give respect to a new generation that seeks affirmation and identity of their own diversity in new ways, beyond a name. To an extent, my children don’t need a hyphen to know their roots or to know their place in the melting pot. It’s not about admitting defeat. It’s about letting go.

Or better, letting them go in their own new ways.


About Sylvia

You know the old adage: "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime"? Sylvia Rosales-Fike has taught 'fishing' most of her life. She has supported the formation of women village banks in Central America, created a microenterprise women’s center in the San Francisco Bay Area and is renown for forming business and banking services to lift people out of poverty and welcome immigrants and refugees to their new homeland. Sylvia is involved in various Detroit projects in community development and social justice. Click here to read more about Sylvia

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