Top podcast Welcome to Night Vale comes to LA - Off-Ramp for January 18, 2014

'The Simpsons' inspires KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez to ask, 'What's in a name'?

Simpsons Spelling Bee stilll

Courtesy Fox Entertainment

In this episode, Lisa Simpson finally makes a new best friend, Isabel Gutierrez (guest voice Eva Longoria), only to discover that she is her opponent in the second grade class representative election.

A funny thing happened to KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez a few weeks ago that's made him think a lot about his name, how he pronounces it, and why he hasn't watched "The Simpsons" since it was on "The Tracey Ullman Show."
 
It all started on a Monday, when I got an email from KPCC anchor Hettie Lynn Hurtes.

"Did you watch 'The Simpsons' this past weekend? Guess what, you were mentioned," she said.

I thought it was spam, but then two more people told me I should check it out.
  
The episode is about Lisa Simpson running for second grade class rep against bilingual, bicultural, super-popular, Isabel Gutierrez. She's dressed in a business suit, and the kids love it when she switches from flawless English to Spanish.

Here's a clip. Skip ahead to 7:00 to hear my name:

LINK

They're both introduced at the last debate: "Please welcome Lisa Simpson, and Isabel — Adolfo Guzman-Lopez — Gutierrez."

I didn't ask for it, but, yeah, I'll gush. Look at me, I'm a pop culture reference!
 
I'm totally flattered, but for a moment, I thought, really, "Is that how I'll be remembered?" After thousands of radio reports over 13 years at KPCC. Is that what'll be on my tombstone, a phonetic spelling of my name? Whaaa?
 
"It's the only thing we as radio reporters or hosts have are our names, nobody can see our faces," said smarty-pants Rico Gagliano from Dinner Party Download.  
 
"Especially for public radio, which people keep on all day long, we're all basically interchangeable voices for people; the only thing that makes us stand out is our name," he said.
 
For the record, I was born in Mexico. Spanish was my first language, then I learned English when we moved to San Diego when I was 7 years old.
 
My name's been a battleground for my mom. When she split up with my dad, she officially changed my name to "Adolfo Lopez": That's her last name. She was a stickler for language. When I was growing up, she was always aware of how people's opinion changed based on how you spoke.
 
On a visit to San Diego, I asked her what she thought if I Anglicized my name.
 
"You'd be a faker," she said in Spanish.
  
She was even more of a nationalist when I was a kid. She feels strongly about it, but she has arthritis now, so she won't back it up like she would in the old days. Now she's an American citizen, votes and gushes about the African-American ladies she exercises with at the Y.
 
Hey, speaking of names, have you ever repeated your name over and over again, so many times, in your head that it lost its meaning? It's kind of a mind-expanding exercise.
 
Lots of other broadcasters in English media keep the Spanish pronunciation of their names. You've heard Maria Hinojosa for years, right? And last month, I caught an anchor I hadn't seen before, Rosa Flores, on CNN saying her name in Spanish. And it wasn't on CNN Latino.
 
Then there's Luis Torres. He's an institution in LA radio news. His first big story was the massive 1968 East L.A. high school walkouts that he covered as editor of the Lincoln High School "Railsplitter."
 
In 1980, just out of journalism graduate school, he got a job at KNX.
 
"I'd get letters from people saying, 'Why do you say your name that way? This is America.' And, almost inevitably, they would write, 'Why don't you go back where you came from?''' he said. 
 
Well, he came from Lincoln Heights, about 10 miles away from the radio station.
 
There's a history to the hate letters he got. Many people remember Bill Dana's "Jose Jimenez" as a high point for the comedian's popularity but a low point in ethnic perceptions of Spanish-speaking Americans.
  
Even in 2014, with so many Spanish surnames in politics, sports and entertainment, it still grates on the ears of some people.
 
Here's part of a voice mail I got recently after a story I did about the high community college enrollment rates of Latinos attending high-performing schools: 

"This poor Latino, no his mommy won't help him, and the whites go to four year colleges but the Mexicans don't. You know what, boo-hoo!" he said. 

Which brings me back to my name appearing on "The Simpsons." I had UCLA Chicano studies professor Marissa Lopez watch it.
 
"How bizzare!" she said.
 
I told her about Bill Dana, Luis Torres and came up with some weird theory to tie it all back to "The Simpsons." She's a real academic, so she saw that it was all half-baked. But the conversation did remind her of a joke.
 
"Have you heard that riddle, 'What do you call a Mexican astronaut? An astronaut, you racist!'" she said.
 
Marissa Lopez is doing some big thinking these days using philosophical models to look at Latinidad, Chicanidad and shifting identity in the not too distant future, when the mainstream point of reference is no longer white. Hey, sort of like Isabel Gutierrez in "The Simpsons."
 
I asked John Rabe about it, and he said, "It's radio. It doesn't really matter how you say it. What matters is that people remember it."
 
Which they do. So you'll have to click on the audio for this story on the left side, to hear me say, "For Off-Ramp, I'm Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, 89.3 KPCC."


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