“I really wanted to change your last name to Smith, but I think you’ll get more money for college with Dominguez,” my stepdad told me. He was fluent in Whiskey-Spanish. We drove to Mexico at least every other month when I was little. My mom bought pills to keep her calm, and had her teeth filled. My dad bought a barrel of Crown Royal and crate of Marlboro Reds. No taxes, or the power of the American dollar, or something like that made it cheaper to put gas in the truck and drive an hour south to Matamoros.
I worry when I send my work to publishers, or apply for a job, that whoever is on the other side will only read the first two words and toss it in the trash. I blame my dad. It’s cliche, but I’ve always thought about what he said.
Have you ever opened a phone-book and looked up Smith? It’s endless–there are as many Smiths as there are Mohammeds–there aren’t, but it felt that way. There are, however, at least 400 Smiths (I counted them for a while when I was nine) listed in all the phone-books working their way into the mantle with the rest of the garbage from 1994.
There’s a much stronger concentration of Dominguez in Texas (which was Mexico, and largely still is), which spreads across the map and fades out as far north as Michigan according to a “Try for free!” pop-up from Ancestry.com. My free trial also revealed that the Dominguez life expectancy is roughly 81 years.
My biological dad, Juan, prefers the English translation: John. Juan is much, much cooler, but I think he feared the hard hand of Michigan racism. John Juan has had a difficult life. We haven’t spoken for two years because that difficult life has turned him into an asshole few can tolerate. The last time we talked he’d just been let go from his longtime job, cutting Wal-Mart’s grass. He was working on a business with his 5th wife, but it fell through–the business, not the marriage.
Dominguez can conjure so many images, a lot of them are probably racist. It’s the brain trying to simplify things so it has time for more urgent issues, like what frozen dinner has non-lethal amounts of sodium. But that initial, simple thought is very likely wrong.
Two white women raised me in a fog of cigarette smoke and MTV. I don’t look like a typical Dominguez, mainly, because I’m painfully white. My dirty blonde hair, gray splashed along the sides, and the red beard beneath, really work against people’s ideas of what a Dominguez should look like. What would you think if you saw my name laying flat in “Times New Uninspiring” on paper bright enough to replace a light bulb? Maybe it’s my blue eyes?
My last name has a common misspelling: Dominquez, quez–to close to queasy. I hate it. Guez is strong, romantic, you can belt it from the gut or scream it, drunkenly, at the bus stop bench as you pull yourself off the cold concrete and sit with dignity, but you really need the entire Domin-guez to give it life.
Dominguez comes from two older names. The lordly sounding version is Dominicus, belonging to the Lord, or from “dies dominica”, “day of the Lord”. The much lamer sounding version is Domingo, it’s basically the same as the cool version, but it’s a word that seems better suited for a Flamingo made of dominoes. Stand on one leg now, Domingos!
After further thought, perhaps, my work won’t see the bottom of the bin. We have education, civil rights, and the power of the word, a power that’s contrary to judging solely by a word, unless that judgment is something like: DOMINGUEZ! Brilliant. Publish his thing and give him the money, forever.