Striving to Become Isaias

What's in a name?

By Isaias Cant?, Jr.
Published on LatinoLA: March 7, 2003

Striving to Become Isaias

"Los hombres se enamoran con los ojos, y las mujeres se enamoran con los oidos."
-- Dicho sin origen conocido

"Men fall in love with their eyes, and women fall in love with their ears."
-- Saying of unknown origin

It was my first day at a Summer school program for migrant children in Auburn, Michigan. I, a shy eight-year-old child, was sitting in Mr. White's class and listening as he read the class roll.

"Luees Roablees?" he called.

"Here," came a little voice from the back of the room.

"Franceesco Sancheez?" he proceeded.

"Heere, sir," Pancho answered.

"Rebecca Gonzalees, are you here?" he asked.

"Aqui," she responded and blushed as heads turned to look, "I -- I -- I mean here." It was a classic mutilation of the Spanish language and the names which were created to suit it. It was a modern-day inquisition.

"Hold on. I'll spell this one out. I-S-A-I-A-S, Cantoo?" he asked. As he did, he curled his lips, making them seem as if they were going to fall off their epidermal pedestal.

"Here, sir. I am over here," I responded from the back of the room.

"Stand up please. Oh, there you are! Now, how do you pronounce that exactly?" he asked.

"ee-s?-ee-as Kan-t?," I replied.

"ee-sy-us cantoo -- Is that right? It is almost like 'ISAIAH' in English. We will call you 'ISAIAH'," he said smugly.

"Okay?" I sullenly responded as I fell into my seat.

People stared down at me from all sides and wondered how I had suddenly become ISAIAH. They wondered how, in a matter of two seconds, I had suddenly crossed cultural and metaphorical borders. They hypothesized about the sheer implications this solitary act would have on the cultural taboos and mores they used to create their universes. They marveled at the hybrid child that sat among them; the child whose very existence was an inexplicable phenomenon. Did this mean that the moon was not made of cheese, and that boys and girls didn't have to sit on separate sides of the bus? The class was a philosophical chaos, and I was ISAIAH.

There are a million other derivatives of the name that people have used to refer to me -- Zacariah, Ezekiel, Macarias, Isis, Izzy, Israel, Mr. Canti, et cetera. The list could go on for days. It is a repetitive list that is rejuvenated by new teachers, new friends, new bosses, and new languages. The number of times I have heard my name tortured, maimed, and slaughtered would probably make you thank the Almighty for not giving you parents, like mine. This name is my cross to bear. This name is my trial by fire. This name is my hell on Earth. Most importantly, what I am trying to make you understand is that there is much to be said about the importance of being referred to by your God-given name.

When you want to call one of your friends in the street, what do you say? When a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor) wants to address you, what does he or she say? When someone asks you your name, what do you say? You say his or her name. He or she says your name. You say your name. Therefore, it is your name that defines your social universe; that forges your Shangri-la; that inscribes you with seductiveness. I was ISAIAH.

A month has passed since I have been christened ISAIAH by Mr. White. My father, who had not been able to come sooner, is fidgety as he waits behind the Gonzales'. I gently pull at his callused, brown fingers in a frantic attempt to save what is left of my self-respect.

"Esperate, Papi [Wait/Calm down, Dad]," I plead. "No me ofende. Nomas es mi nombre en ingl?s. No es nada [It does not offend me. It's just my name in English. It's nothing]," I argue. "Andale, Papi [Please Dad]," I whimper. Yet, his frigid stare does not change and he waits for his parent-teacher conference. He waits.

Finally, the Gonzales' begin to wind down their discussion with the usual, "May God bless you, Mr. White." and "Please take care of Rebecca for us, and feel free to call us if she misbehaves."

"This is it," I thought as a brisk hint of gunpowder nuzzled my nose. This moment would decide the fates of a million blue-black nebulaes. This would be the Armageddon which destroyed me. This would be my undoing, I thought, as the bugler's shrill call to arms tore through my ears. I felt the silence climb out of its cold wet trenches, and stomp over the terrain. It was the sound of dead men walking. The artillery received its orders, and the firing would not stop until it was all over. This time the war would not be postponed because I was ISAIAH.

"Hello, Mr. Canti (I held my breath as I heard the first shot fired). It is a pleasure to finally meet you. ISAIAH is one of my best students," Mr. White stated.

"I am sorry -- I did not catch your name," my father said.

"I am Mr. White. Mr. John White," he replied.

"It is a pleasure to meet you Mr. Blanco," my father said as the artillery's howling barrage of fire began to strike the enemy lines.

"No, I am Mr. White. Mr. John White. It is the acoustics in this room, they are just terrible," he replied as the counter-attack began.

"Oh, I am sorry, Juan."

"No, John."

"Juan?" my father asked as he cupped his hand to his ear.

"John. Mr. John White. That is my name, John White," he yelled.

"Oh, I am terribly sorry Se?or Juan Blanco. It will not happen again," my father apologized as the sky rained down soot and debris.

"No -- " Mr. White, who was visibly disconcerted, said before he was so "rudely" interrupted.

"Juan Blanco. That is your name!" my father yelled, "Juan Blanco. You see, that is what the name translates to in Spanish and since they are synonymous -- it should not matter. Granted, this name might not have been given to you by your parents, and it might not provide you with the proper respect you deserve, but that is of no consequence. You, sir, are Juan Blanco. From now, on this man is Juan Blanco!" my father said as he turned to inform the other parents in the room. A hush fell over them as the haze began to dissipate from the battle ground. My father and I, stand there, side to side, amidst shrapnel, smoke, and the dying.

Please, take a silent moment to think. Although a name may not be important to you, it has a world of meaning for others. Recall, the first time you met a girl or a boy you liked. You writhed in his or her presence, twisted under each one of his or her touches, died a million deaths for him or her. Yet, how destroyed would you have been if he or she had problems pronouncing your name, your soul, your being? How would you have survived? Would you have felt like ISAIAH?

My father's name is Isaias Cant?, Sr. This is his name. According to my father, my name is Isaias Cant?, Jr. We are one and the same, except for a couple of overly traditional values that have gotten lost somewhere between "The War", as this event has come to be known, and puberty. Yet, I am still ISAIAH. The artillery still resounds inside of me. For me, the war is not over. I am still ISAIAH.

I am still ISAIAh.

I am still ISAIah.

I am still ISAiah.

I am still ISaiah.

I am still Isaiah.

I am striving to become Isaias.

About Isaias Cant?, Jr.:
Isaias Cant?, Jr.is at nono17@hotmail.com

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