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How Rodrigo Became Roger

Updated on September 28, 2016
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He is a former journalist who has worked on various community and college publications.

"The students stopped what they were doing and turned their blue-eyes toward the front of the class. There, they saw their teacher standing near the tanned boy with brown eyes and hair."
"The students stopped what they were doing and turned their blue-eyes toward the front of the class. There, they saw their teacher standing near the tanned boy with brown eyes and hair."

“My name is Rodrigo Jimenez-Alonzo” the boy said sheepishly to his new 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Newman. She stared at him, blankly.

“Okay Roger,” she responded.

“Rodrigo,” he tried to correct her in a near whisper.

She smiled at him, stood up, and made her way to the front of the classroom.

“Okay children,” she bellowed to her 3rd graders.

The students stopped what they were doing and turned their blue-eyes toward the front of the class. There, they saw their teacher standing near the tanned boy with brown eyes and hair.

“We have a new student in our class,” she said.

Rodrigo’s heart pounded. He was already feeling the “welcome” the students were giving him. They stared at him, some leering while others sat stone silent and cold.

Ms. Newman put a hand on Rodrigo’s shoulder and continued to say :“His name is…Rog.. I mean Rodrigo James-Alonzo.” All the while, she mispronounced his name as only a teacher in the suburbs of 1975’s Los Angeles would do.

“Rodrigo Jimenez-Alonzo.” He responded, trying to make sure his identity was affirmed to her.

Flustered at first, Ms. Newman quickly composed herself. Her obsequious smile returned with a vengeance. She turned to the class one more time: “Now, class, he’s new to this school and he will be with us for the remainder of the year. I want you to help him get acquainted to his new surroundings.”

Rodrigo’s heart pounded. He was already feeling the “welcome” the students were giving him. They stared at him, some leering while others sat stone silent and cold.

“Rodrigo, would you like to introduce yourself, maybe say hello in your language. You know, like Bonus Die-as?”

Bonus Die-as? Rodrigo thought. What does that mean? He never heard of that. In fact, he never spoke such a thing in his native language…English.

”Umm…” Rodrigo was unsure what to say. The fear within him was rising as his new peers’ glares bored holes into him.

“Bonus Die-as!” he finally blurted with excitement, hoping this would quell the beasts staring at him.

Silence ensured until a little girl spoke up and said harshly: “Are you one of those people who do gardening on my street?”

Rodrigo was flabbergasted. At first he had no idea what she was talking about. Then it dawned on him; he saw those people working on the neighbor’s yard near his new home.

He felt low, ashamed. They looked a little like him. He began to realize his peers thought he looked like them.

“What’s your name, again,” a boy asked.

Rodrigo pondered for moment. He had to prove to them that he wasn’t like those gardeners. It was then he came up with a simple solution.

“My name is Roger,” he answered the boy.

The tension in the classroom eased and they all answered in unison: “Hi Roger.”

The boy formally known as Rodrigo sighed in relief. He passed his first test. If he was going to make it here, he knew what he had to do: he’d have to strip away his identity.

He’d have to dump that peculiar name of his. He’d have to become Roger.

Thus, that day, Rodrigo, as Roger, was reborn.

"The tension in the classroom eased and they all answered in unison: “Hi Roger.”
"The tension in the classroom eased and they all answered in unison: “Hi Roger.” | Source

The Reality of Identity

I would like to say this was a total fantasy. I'd even prefer to say that the main character is not based on anyone real (just a mere coincidence). But I can't. In many respects, Rodrigo and I had the same experience.

There are some differences, however. I don't have a Spanish surname (despite looking the part) and my heritage doesn't go through Latin or South America either. In fact, it's only speculated that it may have gone through Spain, via Ireland).

Still, we had similar experiences at school during the mid-seventies. Like Rodrigo, it was assumed that English was a second language, despite the fact that my family heritage on my father's side could be traced to the British isle. Also, I was - in the beginning - seated with non-English speakers during the first few days of kindergarten.

It is possible that teachers and administrators at my elementary school made snap judgement by hearing the heavy accent that mother possessed at the time, or by looking at my skin color. They may have dealt with my older half-sister who went through the school nearly ten years earlier, and, at the time, barely spoke English.

In truth, I can only speculate. What I do know was that nobody bothered to really listen or observe me back then. They made hasty decisions based on their own prejudice. I didn't have to change my name like Rodrigo did (my name is very, very Welch, from my understanding). However, I felt compelled to not use my "very foreign" middle name -- which is a whole different story in its own right.

Being Rodrigo is not much of a stretch. We've been prejudged, and that's not always an easy thing to deal with.

© 2014 Dean Traylor

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