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Becoming Mrs. Moncada (circa 2003)

March 31, 2010

So tonight I’ll cheat a bit and share the transcript of a framed article I wrote that was published in Hispanic Monthly in 2003 and hangs on the wall by my desk next to the class portrait of the immigrant students I taught ESL in my first job.


Becoming Mrs. Moncada

The first time I tried out my new last name was at the Colombian-owned dry cleaners where we pick up my husband’s shirts.

“Moncada?” she asked, more incredulous than uncertain.

I just nodded. At least she had pronounced it correctly, which is more than I can say for some of my friends, and sometimes even myself.

Deciding to get married was easy.  My husband and I fell in love immediately and got engaged just six weeks after our first date.  We had so much in common – both writers, both interested in international affairs, both the first in our families to go to college.

Deciding to take my husband’s name was different.  I had never intended for my marriage to be a political statement.  But becoming Mrs. Moncada has ended up meaning much more than just trading in my father’s name for my husband’s.

Because I live in Miami, it means I get the looks.  The what-is-she-doing-with-him looks.  The minute I introduce myself as Angie Moncada, people ask me if I speak Spanish.

I’m learning that what they really want to know is if I am actually Latina.  In some ways, I guess I am.  Now a member of a Hispanic household, I’ve been officially added to a whole new list of telemarketing databases.

Because I am from the South, I also get the other looks, the what-is-she-doing-with-him looks.  Becoming Mrs. Moncada means going home is different now.

It is not just that no one at my high school reunion will be able to pronounce my name, it is that most of them won’t know what to say when I tell them what it is.

And because I am a professional woman with a good education, becoming Mrs. Moncada means my friends question my decision.  I have to come up with a better reason for “taking” my husband’s name, regardless of what it is, than “That’s just how I was raised.”

In getting married, I tell them, I am creating a union that will forge a family.  And I still believe in hanging a sign above the door that says, “The Moncadas, Est. 2003.”

A friend who decided to keep her maiden name when she got married told me that the other person with her husband’s name did not exist.  That made me wonder if by choosing this new name I was giving up who I was: Angie Henderson, white girl from Buford, Georgia, one generation away from sharecropping cotton in Tennessee.

I am coming to see, however, that my heritage is just one piece of who I am.

I have wondered what it must mean for my husband’s father, a man who spent his first night in the States sleeping under a table in a borrowed suit, that I am taking the only other thing he brought to this country: his name.  And I have wondered what it must mean for my father, a man who graduated from a segregated high school, that his daughter has pushed him so hard to accept the realities of a multi-ethnic America.

At our wedding, his father told my parents – in English, with a little effort – that he’d never imagined his son would marry such a beautiful woman.  My father told his parents – in English, a little too loudly – that they were proud I had chosen such a good and intelligent man.

I began to wonder a little less when I heard them say those things.

Both my husband and I made choices that have carried us well beyond the lives we might easily have led.  These choices have led us at times to challenge our parents, our friends, our environments, and ourselves.

These choices also have led us to each other.

In taking my husband’s name, I am not just blindly following a tradition.  In choosing his name, I choose to invite the raised eyebrows, the preconceptions and even the prejudice that come with being Mrs. and that come with being Moncada.

Mine is a story of a modern woman stepping outside of the things originally intended to define her.  It is also the story of a modern woman still holding on to some of the traditions that remind her of where she’s from.

So, I’ll keep practicing my new name, rolling the no-longer foreign sound of Moncada on my tongue, until it becomes who I am.

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