What’s in a name? When you hear the name Leslie Ryan, how do you envision what she looks like? Close your eyes and try to say the name out loud. What do you see? You see a typical Irish lass, am I correct? Or when you hear the names Deborah Yamamoto or Lydia Bolts, what do you see? Would you think one is Asian and the other Caucasian?
Well, my friend Deborah Yamamoto is a fair skinned, red head of Scottish ancestry. She married a Japanese American named Andy Yamamoto. She told me that she always gets a look of surprise from people when they meet her for the first time.
What about my husband’s aunt, Lydia Bolts? She is a petite woman with dark olive skin and black hair, whose family immigrated from El Salvador. She told me that it wasn’t easy for her in the 1960’s when they got married. They thought she was the nanny or the housekeeper, and couldn’t be married to my uncle who is Caucasian. She has many stories to tell. (Stay tuned for my next blog.)
Leslie Ryan doesn’t have blonde hair or blue eyes nor white skin. She is a short Filipino American with tanned skin, brown eyes, and black hair – she is me. I married a blonde haired, blue eyed handsome Irish American, took his last name and became Leslie Ryan. It has been 13 years since we were married, and we still experience misconceptions and stereotyping based on my name.
If you tell me that when you hear those names I mentioned above you immediately thought Leslie Ryan is Filipina, Cindy Yamamoto is Caucasian, and Lydia Bolts is Hispanic, then you must be lying. Thirteen years since I changed my last name to Ryan, I have experienced several misconception on what a Mrs. Ryan should look like. Here are my top five moments:
5. Ten years ago, we moved into our home in a neighborhood that wasn’t very diverse. A salesman knocked on my door, and when I opened it, he asked to talk to the lady of the house. I turned around and yelled “Hey, is the lady of the house in?” Then I turned back to the guy, and I sweetly replied, “That would be me!” Then I closed the door in his face. I guess I didn’t look like a homeowner.
4. My husband and I were in the process of interviewing landscape contractors. One morning, we had an appointment with the contractor, but I had to drop off our kids to school and pick up my nanny. When we got home, my nanny went into the front door first, and I was right behind her. We were both in the entryway when I saw that the two male contractors stood up and walked over to greet her and shake her hand. My husband said, “That’s not my wife. That’s our nanny.” Whoops! Their red complexions weren’t from working outside all day. I took the high road and greeted them nicely. I think the guys tried to make up for their faux pas because they answered every question and concerns I had. Sometimes when it comes to construction talk men usually would look and address their answers to their fellow men even if the questions posed came from a woman. These guys knew how to get the contract because they looked at me and addressed me with their answers. I think they knew that even if my husband liked them, I got the last word on whether or not they got the contract. They had a lot of making up to do after the faux pas. They turned out to be the best contractors we ever hired. They have always been respectful and went above and beyond to accomplish all my requests.
3. Twelve years ago, I was on a flight home from Chicago. I was almost six months pregnant, large as a house, uncomfortable, and dreading the six hour flight home. With that in mind, my husband bought me a business class seat on United Airlines so that I was comfortable during the flight home. After I sat down and put my seatbelt on, the flight attendant came over to me, huffed, and asked me in an accusatory tone “Where is Mrs. Ryan?” By the tone of his voice, he probably thought I was from coach, snuck into Business Class and stole a seat. If he asked me for my ticket and driver’s license, I probably would have lost my temper. I politely replied that I was Mrs. Ryan, and the look on the flight attendant’s face was of surprise. The only thing he said was, “Ohhhh…” finally understanding how this short, dark, and pregnant woman could be named “Mrs. Ryan.” He then turned around and marched back into the galley. He was nicer afterwards. Or maybe because he looked at my husband’s airline mileage plus status and saw that it was Platinum? I couldn’t imagine how it was forty to fifty years ago when mixed marriages weren’t as prevalent.
2. Recently, I had several really large and heavy pots delivered, and when I opened the garage door to let the guy bring the pots in, he asked me where Mr. Ryan was and if I worked for him. Seriously? I was even dressed up that day. I was so annoyed, I made the poor guy move the heavy pots a couple of times. Then I felt bad and offered him some water.
1. This is the most recent and most ludicrous incident. I schedule a one on one tutorial at an Apple store, and when I arrived, I was seated with three other women who were Caucasian. The Apple tutor I was assigned to went to the first woman and asked if she was Leslie Ryan. She shook her head. I raised my hand and said, “I’m Leslie Ryan.” The guy ignored me and went to the second woman and asked if she was Leslie Ryan. Second woman said, “No.” He then went over to the third woman, who already shook her head before he asked her. I was the only one left at the table, and he finally looked at me. I gave him a look that says I’m the person he was looking for. I couldn’t resist and asked him, “What, I don’t look like a Leslie Ryan?” Awkward, right? The rest of the hour was a little disconcerting, to say the least. Even though this incident happened an hour ago, I still left the store shaking my head in disbelief.
Some of the above incidents happened twelve years ago to just recently. One would think there would have been progress where people no longer assume what a person looks like based on their name.
What about multiracial children? My son’s name for example is Sean Patrick Ryan, but he looks more like me. My husband and I thought it would be cool to give him a full Irish name. Did we make a mistake by doing that? Should we have included a Filipino name and hope that they would see he is half? What is he going to experience when he grows up? How will he handle situations of misperception and stereotyping? I can only hope and pray that he doesn’t resent us for giving him that name. So far, he hasn’t experienced any of this.
How do I teach my children to deal with misperception and stereotyping? My husband and I discussed this matter, and we decided that the first thing is to make sure our kids have a strong sense of who they are. As long as they are confident about themselves, nothing can break them. Incidents like I have experienced will just roll off their backs and afterwards, they can laugh about how ignorant people can be. The next is to lead by example. If I get angry and throw a fit over every incident I have experienced, then that is exactly what they will do. I usually say something funny or use humor. It diffuses an awkward situation and makes the other party feel dumb. However, if the situation is not based on ignorance but malice, then I will fight and stand up for what is right. I pick my battles. Hopefully my children will learn this as they grow up. I feel that I can’t protect my children forever. Neither can I control what other people say and do. All I can do is teach my children to be confident about themselves and try to lead by example.
Our country is the most diverse than it has ever been. Mixed marriages are prevalent worldwide. More schools celebrate and teach multiculturalism and diversity. Parents seek to raise global children. Traditional and social media often talks about multiculturalism and diversity. Movies, television shows, and commercials are incorporating multicultural families to get with the times. At some point in this century, issues like this will be a thing of the past. One can only hope…