Is Texas State Rep. Betty Brown (R-Terrell) extremely out of touch with national demographics, or is she the unfortunate scapegoat in a voter registration debate?
At first glance, the former seems a bit more likely, but a closer look reveals a different story. During a hearing on voter registration, she asked Ramey Ko of the Organization of Chinese Americans if Asian voters could have names that are "easier for Americans to deal with."
At a Texas House Elections committee meeting, she asked, "Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese-I understand it's a rather difficult language-do you think it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?"
But Brown's comments don't end there, and most accounts don't include the second part of that statement. She continues, "I'm not talking changing your name. I'm talking about the transliteration, or whatever you refer to it, that you could use for us."
This is a more reasonable request, especially in the greater context of the debate on the voter registration process. Watching the video of this interaction, which you can see here on YouTube, provides a much better context of a debate pertaining to the passage of a bill pertaining to identification in voter registration.
Jordan Berry, Brown's spokesman told the Houston Chronicle that her remarks weren't meant to be racially driven, but instead, a way to "resolve an identification problem." Brown says her suggestion was a way to make it easier for Asian Americans to be identified in the voting process, since their legal transliterated names and the more common names used on their driver's licenses don't always match up.
Texas Republicans have been pushing for increased forms of identification for voting, whereas the Democrats suggest this proposal is a way for the Republicans to stifle certain voters. The Texas Democratic Party has demanded an apology from Rep. Brown, but that doesn't seem too likely at this point.
If she were suggesting that Asian Americans change their names, I wouldn't have much sympathy for Rep. Brown. After all, which names are easier for your average English-speaker to say: Asian surnames like Chan, Lee, and Park, or European ones like Hajossyov, Dobrovsky, or Csornyak?
But that's not what she's implying.
Though she could have chosen her words more carefully, the overall interaction between Ko and Brown seems pretty innocuous. If anything, Brown's question relating to the voter identification for elections in mainland China seems to be a bigger political gaffe.
Even though her comments might not be her most politically savvy, suggesting that someone of any nationality should use the same name on their legal voting documentation that they use on their driver's licenses or other forms of I.D. seems pretty logical. Suggesting that Asian Americans completely change their names so they're "easier to deal with," when people of any other nationality can keep their original names, does not.