Monday, July 6, 2009

What is a Caucajewmexdian? (part one)

College freshman orientation is a study in template. You see, everyone is trying to get to know everyone else, and so everyone gets asked the same questions again and again: what's your name? where are you from? and sometimes what's your major?

I often got stuck on the where are you from? first. Exchanges went like this:
Stranger: Where are you from?
Me: Here in Columbus.
Stranger: Oh, OK. What about before that?
Me: Well, I was born in Utah.
Stranger: ...And before that?
Me: ....

I assume that they were getting at: why are you a tall dark guy with a long black beard and long black hair and eyes that don't quite look like mine? There's just not an easy, polite, plug-in question for that. Poor freshmen. Their curiosity is admirable: I'd much rather be asked questions than denied jobs or mugged in an alleyway--perhaps questions are part of what make America great. And yet, I was always a little annoyed as well as amused to be asked about my pre-birth origins.

I also got tired of being told "you look very...ethnic" but probably only because I sort of wished there were a country called Ethnica I could claim as my ancestral homeland, thus fulfilling the asker's passing curiosity. Instead, I would have to go into an elaborate story about where my great-grandparents were born, and where their children moved, and which unions I was a product of.

Eventually, I came up with a one-word answer to questions probing at my mysterious origins. Caucajewmexdian. Short for Caucasian-Jewish-Mexican-Indian. It's not really the most helpful label, but it is amusing, which among my fellow Caucajewmexdians counts for a lot.


  1. I like how you play up the companants of your internationality at different times or instances in dress, grooming, language, etc. I am impressed at, and I am still trying to fully comprehend the profundity of, your adopting the name Goldberg. I bet that was a battle. I've heard legal name changes can be nightmareish. Yet, what a great memorial to your grandfather. In any event, there are good reasons that strangers may try to figure out the nuances of your ethnicity -- because you are an admirable and empathetic sum of your parts.

  2. Part of that decision was very pragmatic actually: I was born James Arthur Goldberg Westwood, but most forms have room for only three names! I remember going back and forth quite a bit with the AP test people trying to convince them that James Arthur Westwood and James Goldberg Westwood were, in fact, a single individual. I finally got tired of it, and decided that if I had to legally give part up, I didn't want it to be part of my grandfather's name. I dropped the Westwood instead--though I love them dearly, there are many more Westwoods to pass on their name.

    I've heard stories of Hispanic people stuggling with the American three name system (with the end name being considered the family name) as well. The intersection of names and record-keeping software becomes a place where we negotiate identity.

  3. I did not know this about your name, James. Very interesting.

  4. It occurs to me that our father's name actually follows the Hispanic pattern-- first name, second first name, father's family name, mother's family name.


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