Axios Latino

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📢 A couple of weeks ago, we asked whether you use accent marks in your surnames and your reasons for doing so or not. Your responses blew our minds!

  • Today's newsletter is devoted entirely to this topic. Check below to see if your response was published!
  • Puede leer la versión en español aquí.

🚨Axios and Noticias Telemundo invite you to join us virtually for the inaugural Axios Latino Visionarios event on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6pm ET, featuring interviews with White House senior adviser Julie Chavez Rodriguez, U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), and Siete Family Foods co-founder and CEO Miguel Garza. Register here.

This newsletter, edited by Astrid Galván and Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath, is 1,204 words, a 4.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Along the way we lost the accents

Illustration of a letter n with a missing virgulilla (tilde) mark indicated by a dotted line.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Pressure to assimilate and technological shortcomings have forced many Latinos in the U.S. to ditch accent marks that would normally be in Hispanic surnames and that change pronunciation in dramatic ways, Russell and Astrid write.

  • But some are taking stock of their cultural heritage and adopting accent marks as a show of pride.

The backstory: Many Mexicans who immigrated to the U.S. during the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s came from poor, rural areas and had limited Spanish or English literacy.

  • U.S. schools punished students and intimidated parents for speaking Spanish, says Cynthia Duarte, director of the Sarah W. Heath Center for Equality and Justice at California Lutheran University.
  • Latinos also faced segregation, discrimination, and high dropout rates, so the idea of learning where to place accents on names was "not necessarily way up high on the list," Duarte tells Axios.
  • That resulted in language loss and the use of accent marks becoming a "sign of shame," she adds.

Our thought bubble, via Marina: Tildes (á), virgulillas (ñ), umlauts (ü) and cedillas (ç) are key to Romance languages such as Spanish and Portuguese and indicate how some words are pronounced.

  • In Spanish, for example, "ingles" means groin, while "inglés" means English. Without the virgulilla in año (year) the meaning would be radically different 😳.

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2. Why tech is barely catching up

A sad computer
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

There are many reasons why people with Spanish names might not use accent marks, but one common response is that technology doesn't support them, Astrid writes.

Driving the news: Early computer programmers didn't consider non-English letters and symbols when developing keyboards and computer systems.

  • Many major news organizations including the New York Times and the Associated Press didn't use accent marks and other symbols in the past; the same for government agencies.
  • The AP issued guidance in April 2019 to start using accent marks when people request them or in other circumstances.

A thought bubble via Scott Rosenberg, Axios managing editor for tech: The early programmers who failed to build accents into their systems weren't thinking about it as a cultural choice — they were working on machines with incredibly limited memory (they couldn't do lowercase letters, either!).

  • But their initial choice meant that for many decades, it was either impossible or a ton of extra work to include accents in digital communications. By the time the systems caught up, many users had fallen into the habit of ignoring them.

That's what many of our readers have told us, and not just when it comes to accent marks.

  • Federico Viñas, who works in digital marketing in Uruguay, said using the "ñ" on the computer "only creates issues, so instead of Viñas I usually just use Vinas."
  • "Even when I enter my credit card information I do it with the n instead of the ñ, even though all my cards have Viñas written on them."

3. Reclaiming culture through accent marks

Illustration of a virgulilla (tilde) surrounded by hearts.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As the Latino population grows and a new generation of young people embrace their culture, the accent mark is making somewhat of a comeback, Astrid writes.

Details: We heard from a few readers who hadn't traditionally used the accent marks on their name but recently adopted them.

Valerie Muñoz, an assistant principal in Kent, Washington, says she started using the ñ in her last name in her email signature in the last year or so.

  • "It feels like I am reclaiming something by using it now," Muñoz tells Axios Latino. Her coworkers have been supportive, asking her how to type the ñ so they can spell her name correctly.

Chris Echeverría, assistant director of government affairs at New York University, tells us that "working from home since the pandemic and being around family and friends more has reconnected me with my Hispanic roots, so I've used the accent on my last name in social media to signify that personal transformation."

  • "My grandfather changed his last name late in life to something less Latin-sounding because in the 70s he felt discriminated against. Adding the accent represents to me all the progress [we] Hispanic people have made in America and it makes me proud," Echeverría says.
  • Latino MLB players in 2016 started a successful campaign called #PonleAcento, asking for their names to be printed properly on their jerseys.

A thought bubble from Astrid: I didn't start using the accent mark on Galván until halfway through my journalism career when I started working at the Associated Press.

  • For me, it was about showing pride, especially because Latinos are woefully underrepresented in newsrooms. But I also got sick of hearing my name pronounced (and spelled!) as Galvin.

4. In your own words: Reader responses

In this illustration, an old fashioned metal radio mic is surrounded by giant red exclamation marks.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We're so grateful to have such engaged readers. Here are some of the many responses you kindly sent in.

I always use — and insist on my name being written with — an “ñ” because that is how it is correctly spelled ... It’s also an important statement about the importance of inclusion and diversity, in my view, because it clearly indicates that the name is Latino, and it’s important, in my view, for the world to see examples of Latinos doing a wide range of professional activities, including at very senior levels.
— Michael C. Camuñez, Los Angeles
It doesn't matter since being in school where speaking Spanish was a big no-no. I have never used it since that was what I was taught at school.
— Phillip Gomez, San Antonio
Yes, I insist on using the accented á in my last name: Yáñez. Why? Because I am so tired of folks referring to me as YaNEZ. I am proud of my Spanish heritage and want “gringos” to get used to referring to us as we should be referred to. Nothing is more frustrating to me than hearing sportscasters, for example, refer to Latin ball players as PerEZ instead of Pérez, even when their jerseys reflect the accent marks. 
— Robert Yáñez, Tampa Bay, Florida
I do not use an accent because I grew up in Ohio, and I was never taught to use accents unless I was studying a foreign language.
— Barbara Rodriguez, Novelty, Ohio
52 years since I immigrated to Boston, I never allowed my name to be anglicized, I would tell people it’s a Spanish J and has an accent. While I had to assimilate, I was protective of my identity and felt it was the one thing I could preserve. Eventually, it became part of my personal branding.
— José Francisco Ávila, New York

5. Stories we're watching

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) greets Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard in Mexico City on Sept. 12. Raquel Cunha/AFP via Getty Images

1. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met yesterday with Mexican government officials to discuss economic cooperation under the new North American trade agreement.

  • In July, the U.S. called for talks over concerns that Mexico is in breach of the agreement through its planned energy reform, which favors coal production and government-run agencies over private ones.

2. A corruption trial against two Panamanian ex-presidents and 80 other officials started yesterday.

  • The case was filed in 2015 and is related to the construction company Odebrecht, which has been found to have paid bribes at the highest levels of government in exchange for public contracts in other Latin American nations.
  • Former presidents Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014) and Juan Carlos Varela (2014-2019) are among those accused of receiving bribes or letting the scheme continue. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Thanks for reading! Thanks to Patricia Guadalupe for copy-editing this newsletter.