I recently got married, and my last name went from Shalda to Niemerowicz.
My students knew I was engaged, and so we would often make a game out of trying to pronounce my future last name.
I would project it on the screen, and go around the room letting kids guess how to pronounce it.
And oh, so many others. (It’s pronounced Nee-murr-oh-vidge, for the record)
The other day, a State Staff asked how to pronounce my new last name, and I turned to my students and let them do it. It has become a point of pride and accomplishment, being able to pronounce my last name.
When one of my students tried and didn’t quite get it, he (with much sass) exclaimed, “Miss, what is with all these weird white people names??”
I am a minority in my workplace. What is a cultural norm to me, is not to my students. What I perceive to be basic cultural knowledge, is foreign to them. This is America, but America isn’t white, and elements of white culture (whatever that is) aren’t any more important or valuable than elements of black or Latino culture. They’re just different. Last names are usually a cultural flag, a testament to who we are or where we come from or who we love. Students struggled with Shalda, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that Niemerowicz was not only difficult to say (as it is for everyone), but it was also completely foreign to them. It was startling to me to be reminded that what I think is common, is incredibly uncommon in other parts of our country, counties, and cities; that my life experience is just that – it’s mine and mine alone. What I’ve experienced of the world is not the world, but a perception of it that was formed and informed by my race, religion, upbringing, community, and education. I think we too often forget that.