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Passing On My Family Name to My Kids Is How I Honor My Late Father And My Latinx Roots

I always tripped over the double R’s in my last name. The trilling ‘rrrrr’ sound that I should have made when I tried saying it ended flat and tongue-tied. I had a small lisp and the speech impediment made some words difficult to say; unfortunately one being my own name.

Still, I was determined to learn how to say my last name correctly. Already, none of my teachers seemed to be able to say it, opting to call me ‘Samantha C.’ instead of Samantha Chavarria. If no one else would take the time to say it right, then at least I would learn to try how.

My dad used to help me and my sister practice rolling our Rs for that reason. He would tell us that he refused to marry our mother, a white woman, until she learned how to pronounce the Latinx name that she would become her own. We needed to learn to pronounce it ourselves if we wanted to stay in the family, dad would tease. My sister and I eventually realized he was joking but we were properly motivated.

I always loved my last name. Chavarrias weren’t very common, so I was proud to have an identity that made me feel included in a whole community while singularly unique among them.

My last name also felt like proof of my origin.

Being mixed, I didn’t always feel that I belonged in my Latinx culture. I never learned to speak Spanish and I didn’t look like the other Latinas so I wasn’t seen as Mexican enough. Isolated, I sometimes felt stuck between accepting my identity and being accepted by my community.

But my name was validation of where I came from. It was actual proof of the blood that ran through my veins; blood belonging to offspring of Spanish colonizers and Indigenous North Americans of Mexico and Texas. My last name — which had survived European expansion and cultural erasure — tethered me to my Latinx heritage; just as surely as my first name was forever joined to my last.

My father was the other force that kept me connected to my community. He was the one who taught me to use the flavors of our culture — chile, comino, cilantro y orégano mexicano. He taught how to roll the perfect tamal and that masa should be just so in order to easily spread. He taught me that Latinx speak love in the language of food.

Driving late night road trips through south Texas, my dad’s gentle singing to the Selena songs on our radio made me fall in love with Tejano music. The novelas he’d watch with my grandmother when we’d visit was a curious new form of entertainment to me. So I wouldn’t miss out, he always translated the fast dialogue for his Spanish-challenged daughter.

In these ways and countless more, he taught me to love everything about being Latinx and to celebrate it louder than those who would try to strip me of my culture. I knew I’d never shed myself of my last name — not even for the man I loved.

I met my future husband when we were both in high school. And, like my mother, he was white. Though we wouldn’t get married until years later, I was upfront with my guy from the beginning about who I was and what I wanted. My family is important to me; my culture is important to me; my name is important to me.

As we got more serious, we talked about what a future together would look like. I wanted children but the thought of having them and not passing on my last name felt like I was excluding them from my culture. Plus, our particular Chavarria line was poised to end with my generation.

My grandfather was the only son and his sisters had all married, taking their husband’s names. My dad’s sister’s had all taken their husband’s names too so their sons were a mix of other surnames. His brothers birthed daughters — who, again, took other names for their children.

There was no one to ensure another generation of Chavarrias. The long lineage that saw our family in Texas for so long was soon to be dead. I couldn’t let that happen.

My husband and I married in March of 2005. I walked down the aisle on the arm of my father, through a wedding arch he built by himself. “Ave Maria” played softly in the background and my dad prepared an amazing asado for the occasion. And I kept my last name.

Four months later, our son was born and another generation of Chavarrias officially entered the world. Adding a whole new branch to the bloodline, two more baby Chavarrias joined him in the year to come.

People used to ask my husband how I managed to convince him to give our children my last name and his answer was always the same. I had a connection to something and he didn’t. I was trying to preserve my culture while he didn’t need to. I was acting on love for my father where he had none for his.

It was that love for my father that got me through the hardest experience of my life. In 2017, after waiting several months for a diagnosis, my dad was confirmed to have Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. Being the tough chingón he was, he stretched his two-month life expectancy into a year. Still, losing him was like a punch in the gut and a splash of ice water all at once.

The man who had loved me and raised me was gone. Left in his place was a scared little girl, crying for her daddy and still putting too much emphasis on those double Rs.

As his oldest child, making his funeral arrangements was a long and upsetting endeavor. But it was made slightly better by one small grace. Dad had gone with a local funeral home run by a Mexican-American family. They didn’t mispronounce our name even once.

The connection I have with my father and my Latinx culture might appear small, but this tiny act was significant enough to ease the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I know there’s a community here for me — the same community my dad loved and that he raised me to love — and I will always feel that my last name is proof of that.

READ: Chrissie Fit Of ‘Pitch Perfect’ Is All Of Us Latinas With Non-Latino Last Names

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I Chose To Keep My Last Name When I Got Married Because I Wanted To Hold Onto The Latinidad My Own Name Gives Me

identities

I Chose To Keep My Last Name When I Got Married Because I Wanted To Hold Onto The Latinidad My Own Name Gives Me

When people first look at me, they don’t think I’m Mexican, let alone Latina.

Because I am white-passing, I make it a point to let everyone know that I am, in fact, not white. When people first meet me, our conversations usually go like this: “Can I ask what you are?” and “You must be half, right?” “Oh, you’re Latina! I had no idea.” Even if people are unsure of “what I am,” I let them know real quick by the way I say my last name.

So imagine my dilemma when I was getting married to a white man. I know that sounds bad, but hear me out. I started worrying about whether or not I would change my last name. Instead of freaking out over which flowers my bouquet would have or what food we’d serve, I was stressed about changing my last name.

“Would I get rid of my last name completely or would I hyphenate it,” I thought. Even as I dabbled with the idea of hyphenating my last name with his, it didn’t sit right with me. Thankfully, it didn’t sit right with my partner either.

If I took my husband’s last name, not only would people assume that I’m 100% white, because as I mentioned before, that’s already something I have to deal with, but now people wouldn’t question it. They would hear my name and question nothing. I’d rather people inquire about my identity than not at all.

For me, everything that I knew about my identity and what I was most proud of would disappear as soon as I introduced myself. The thought of not being able to say my last name after marriage was nerve-racking. I couldn’t sleep thinking about it. How would I introduce myself? Would I awkwardly plug that fun fact into my conversation? These were the questions raced through my head at night.

While I was stressing out about my possible name change, my partner is the one who actually suggested I keep my last name. He reminded me that we could do whatever we wanted. We didn’t have to follow an outdated tradition because it was our marriage, after all.

Credit: @alyssawritesxo / Instagram / @delanieandco

If you haven’t noticed by now, my last name means everything to me. In the same way that people strongly identify with their hair, that’s how I feel when it comes to my last name. It’s who I am and it’s what makes me, me. I’m proud of it.

My last name isn’t that common either, so I’ve always loved how unique it is. My grandfather from my dad’s side always said his last name with pride, and I like to think that he instilled that in me. He grew up in a time when Latinos weren’t allowed to speak Spanish, but the one way he rebelled was by the way he pronounced his name. Because of that, I’ve never pronounced my last name “white-sounding.” By that, I mean that I actually pronounce my name in Spanish, the way my grandfather taught me to say it.

It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to, I’ll never change the way I prounounce it. I could be at the DMV, introducing myself to new coworkers, or confirming my attendance at a bougie event, I don’t care, I’m introducing myself in Spanish. Me vale.

You will never catch me saying my last name in an English way in order for non-Latinos to understand it. If anything, I make it a point to say it con fuerte. I emphasize each letter, drag out each syllable, and say it loudly for the people in the back. Another thing I do is that I always roll the “r” in my last name, and sometimes, I even let it linger. I want it to sink in, so people know that I’m Latina. To some, my skin color might tell a different story, but my last name does not.

 Credit: @alyssawritesxo / Instagram

Once I realized that I was in control of keeping my last name and that my husband was on board with my decision, I felt at peace. I didn’t have to worry about losing my identity or the one thing that matters to me the most.

Just because I was getting married didn’t mean I had to change who I was. I didn’t have to lose my last name because of some old tradition or because of what seems like the normal thing to do.

Keeping my last name was the best decision I’ve ever had to make, like ever. This was the one time when I really listened to my intuition, and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been happy—and that’s not how I would want my marriage to start. On that note, I know that I’m lucky to have a husband who was completely okay with my choice. Although, even if he wasn’t fully on board with me keeping my last name, it wouldn’t have been his decision to make.

Credit: @alyssawritesxo /  Instagram / @delanieandco

Losing a huge part of myself would hurt too much, and deep in my heart, I would not feel like myself. I would get rid of the single most important thing that makes me who I am.

Tossing away my last name would completely strip me of my identity, and it would make me feel like I erased my Mexican ancestry. Like I said before, no one would think twice about my ethnicity, and I’d rather have people confused as to what I might be than to assume I’m nothing at all.

For me, my last name is what ties me to my roots. It’s also a reminder that I’m privileged. I can say my last name in Spanish. Unlike me, my grandfather didn’t always have that luxury. He said our last name with defiance. Because of that history, I’m able to say my name with honor.

Credit: Alyssa Morin

My last name is what reminds me—and everyone else—of my heritage.


Read: She Struggled To Pay For College Because She Was Undocumented, So This Latina Created An App To Make The Process Easier For The Next Generation

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