Over the course of my life, I have been called so many different things. At school I was marina (muh-ree-nuh) but at home I was anything from multiple family nicknames or when my mom was mad at me, my name in Spanish. While my name technically stayed the same (my real name, not any nicknames), I always saw the Spanish and English pronunciation as two different names. To me, the English version was just a butchered, watered-down version of my name in Spanish. I always thought the Spanish pronunciation was prettier, even if I only heard it when my mom was mad at me.
As I got older, I heard the Spanish pronunciation more often. Throughout junior high and high school, I attended church every weekend which was in Spanish as there was thankfully a Hispanic sector of our church. Hearing my name more in Spanish made me realize just how much the two different pronunciations affected my identity. I was marina (mah-ree-nah) at church, it reminded me of child me. The child who got their hair done every morning by their mom in intricate braids and ponytails, the one who would go to a Hispanic/Latine flea market every weekend with their family and who would listen to duranguense and banda on the way there.
In retrospect, marina reminded me of a time before I was forced into mainstream American culture through school and my incredibly white affluent hometown. It reminded me of the little Mexican child who would attend ELL classes in elementary school, oblivious to American customs and culture. On the other hand, marina was a name and identity forced onto me. It was the Americanized version of myself, the one who started losing their native tongue at one point, the girl who was ashamed of the music and food she would eat and the customs I had. I constantly tried to suppress my ethnicity growing up and my name was no exception to the things I changed or tried to suppress.
While I didn’t recognize these feelings growing up, I thankfully have now. I realize that while it was not my fault my name was essentially changed as that is how Americans pronounce it, I still feel like I played a part in denying myself the right to my own name. Unfortunately, I never had the courage as a child or even as a teen to correct people about the pronunciation of my name. When my name was changed to marina, I obliged. I tried embracing the American identity that was forced on to me until I realized that I could never fill that role. I am not American nor am I just Mexican. My experience as a daughter of Mexican immigrants born and raised in the U.S. gave me a hybrid identity that I need to embrace.
I realized that if Americans who only speak English can pronounce words they pick and choose from other languages, then surely, they can pronounce marina. What really inspired this change after years of battling an identity crisis was comedically enough, a tiktok. I remember starting to contemplate going by marina instead of marina when I saw a tiktok video on my feed that said “if people can pronounce charcuterie, then they can pronounce your ethnic name.” That really put things into perspective for me. Americans pick and choose the aspects of other cultures they take on and yet when it comes to pronouncing an ethnic name, they refuse.
And so, inspired by this tiktok and meeting people who went by the accurate pronunciation of their name, I decided to go by marina. In part to embrace the Mexican part of my identity that symbolizes my culture, but also to uphold my own parent’s intentions with my name. Considering I was born to Mexican immigrant parents who still spoke Spanish as their main language, their intended pronunciation of my name was never marina, but marina. By now going by the correct pronunciation of my name I’m following through with my parents’ intentions.
So, I reintroduce myself to everyone. Hi, my name is marina martinez. I am the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants. I am a first generation Mexican-American. I speak two languages; I have two cultures. While these things made me struggle with my identity for as long as I can remember and it is something I will most likely always at least partially struggle with, I now embrace my hybrid identity. I am neither Mexican nor American, I am both. I used to think that was a bad thing, a thing alienated me from both cultures as I never fully fit into both, but I now see the beauty in having two cultures and two tongues. While it led to so many internal struggles, I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.
I encourage anyone who has an ethnic name to stay true to yourself and your name. Correct people on the desired pronunciation of your name because it is yours. In our life there are so many things we may not have control over, like our inevitable assimilation into American culture while living in the U.S. But what we do have, is a say in how we present ourselves to the world. Our name is a vital thing to our person and our identity and that should be respected by everyone.