Monday, May 18, 2009

George Not Jorge

I come from a long line of George’s: George Hilston Kim (Dad), George Fairweather Kim (Grandpa), George Ofthejungle (Monkey), etc. So it only makes sense that I should’ve been named George, don’t ya think?

When my dad met mom, he didn’t know of my Mother’s hatred of the name George. I’m sure at first she clenched her jaw and called him George, but as the relationship grew, and his quirky habits that she once found endearing and cute grew tiresome, she sprung on him that she hated the name George. From that day on my dad became known as Kim (his last name). Or as my very southern mom pronounces it: “Ke-yem.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard my Mom call my Dad by his real name.

I met Jorge 13 years ago when he was working at the Salvation Army. The Army had just lost their contract with city to deliver hot meals to Seniors in SF because they wouldn’t adhere to domestic partners guidelines and were the new contract holders. While at the Salvation Army, scavenging city owned ovens and delivery materials, we saw Jorge standing on a dock with a look that said, “What about me?” We took Jorge to deliver senior meals for us.

Jorge introduced himself as George. Jorge/George was obviously Latino and was used to dumbing-down his name for white people. According to me, I was one with the people and I knew how to properly pronounce Jorge, so why couldn’t I call him Jorge? Didn’t he see I was one of the cool ones? It would’ve been a multi-cultural trophy that I could place on my mantle and repeat over and over in conversation: Well, you know Jorge at work…” My friend Jorge said....” Even though it pained me to pronounce the hard “G” of George, I accepted his wishes and called him what he wanted. Years of sensitivity training prepared me for this moment and I passed the test. 13 years later he’s just George and I could give a shit about calling Jorge George, or Esteban Steven – it’s what they want not me. It’s a tough lesson for a white liberal.

Every once in awhile at work I have to deal with strangers who Jorge sees every day on his delivery route. This usually happens when Jorge is sick or on Vacation. I always introduce myself the same way:

“Hey, Hey, I’m subbing for George. I’m Greg.”

Inevitably, one of them responds, “You mean Jorge?” Knowing we’re talking about the same person, I play ignorant. I’ve found this tactic very effective.

“No, I’m subbing for George. You know, the muscular Latino dude.” I add the description to let them know we’re talking about the same person.

“Yeah, Jorge.”

“No, George.”

I’ll let this go on for as long as it takes. If they don’t give up, I’ll break out the big guns:

“Listen,” if you want to piss off somebody, start with “listen.” “I’ve known George for 13 years and if anybody’s gonna call him Jorge, It’s gonna be me. But that ain’t happening, so get over it. If you’re white, he wants you to call him George. Got it.”

Well, that’s what I’d say if got to that point.

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