Accents are making a comeback in Latin surnames

What’s in a name? For many, it is a connection with our ancestors. Over the decades, many members of the Latino community have changed their names to assimilate or avoid the headaches of technology. But now some are reclaiming the accent marks they left behind.

Astrid Galván, editor-in-chief of Axios Latino, said she started using her surname accent a decade ago as a means of representation in the newsroom. Now many people – even those from other backgrounds like German and Irish – have reached out to say they have or plan to do the same.

This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: I noticed you have an accent above the second “a” in your last name. You shared that you still don’t use it, but restarted it about 10 years ago. Can you tell me about it?

Astrid Galvan: I mean, growing up in the States, you know, you just don’t use them; no one does. When I started working for the Associated Press, there was a combination of reasons: I was kind of really proud of where I was in my career; I was proud of my heritage, of being a daughter of Mexican immigrants. And I was also bothered by – and this was industry-wide – the lack of use of really important symbols on people’s names in stories. So, you know, back then [Enrique] Peña Nieto was the president of Mexico. And if he was talked about in the United States, which he often did, it was Pena Nieto. And I was like, that’s not his name. It drove me crazy. So it was kind of a combination of those factors – plus people still mispronounce my name. They said “Galvin”, which drove me crazy. So I thought, well, maybe if I put an accent on, maybe people will think of it and know it’s Galván.

Did it make a difference?

No, this is not the case.

Well, I’m sorry about that. Let’s take a step back and understand why so many people have lost these accent marks – permanently or for a period of time. You talk about it in your report.

It dates back to the Mexican Revolution when Mexican immigrants started coming to the United States. Many of them came from very poor rural areas and they were illiterate in Spanish and English, so they got lost when they got here. Later, as the generations started growing here, you know, there was a time in history when many Latinos learned to avoid Spanish; they were punished at school if they spoke Spanish. And so, you know, an accent became kind of an embarrassing thing, like people didn’t use it because it was looked down upon.

And then, as time passed, technology came along, and the way computer systems and keyboards were designed was with the English language in mind – so not conducive to symbols that aren’t English .

It strikes me as similar to a lot of the conversation we’ve heard about portrayal in popular media as well – it’s similar in a way because it integrates or normalizes these characters. Am I hitting the mark here?

Yeah, you are. And I think what’s really interesting is that things have changed, haven’t they? So, you know, as the Latin American population has grown so much and we’re kind of – especially, you know, Gen Z and younger generations – really taking stock of, hey, that’s my legacy. Like, I should be proud of that. I shouldn’t hide it.

When Axios Latino asked readers, “hey, do you use the accent; tell us why or why not? We got a lot of responses, and some of those responses are people saying, “you know, I haven’t done this in the past, and I just started using it in my e-signature. email last year.” And like, I think for me, it’s a symbol of pride in my culture. And so I think you’re starting to see that kind of change. But of course, you know, there are still computer programs that don’t recognize it. For example, my email signature has the accent, and some readers would say, “Hey look, this is what your signature looks like when you emailed me,” and it was like a question mark. It’s always problematic.

Did you hear anything else from readers that surprised you or got you thinking, or anything else about this topic that people have been contacting you about?

Yes, the response has just been staggering on Twitter, as so many people of Irish and German descent have commented on how much of a problem it has been for them and their ancestors. So it really struck a chord with people – not just Latinos – from non-English speaking countries. And one of the things, I think for me, that’s most gratifying is that a lot of people have said, “You know what, I’m going to think about adding it because, why not?”

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