“Personally, I can speak to the erasure of this element of my culture. My last name, Saez, has always been written without the accent mark. It was not until recently that I realized my name was supposed to have an accent mark. When I asked my parents about it, they told me how the accented ‘á’ was never included in their paperwork when they came to the United States; thus, it was never passed down to my siblings and I,” said Sáez. ((Photo Credit: Emara Saez/Achona Online))
“Personally, I can speak to the erasure of this element of my culture. My last name, Saez, has always been written without the accent mark. It was not until recently that I realized my name was supposed to have an accent mark. When I asked my parents about it, they told me how the accented ‘á’ was never included in their paperwork when they came to the United States; thus, it was never passed down to my siblings and I,” said Sáez.

(Photo Credit: Emara Saez/Achona Online)

#PonleAcento U.S.A. (OPINION)

April 7, 2020

On Monday, Mar. 30, we — Multimedia Editor Adriana James-Rodil and Junior Staff Writer Emara Sáez — were in Advanced Placement Spanish class when we watched a video about the “Ponle Acento” campaign, and as Hispanic women ourselves, it sparked our interests. 

The Ponle Acento (which means “to put an accent on it”) campaign, created by LatinWorks in 2015 and is sponsored by Major League Baseball (MLB), went public in 2016 when Los Angeles Dodgers First Baseman Adrián González posted it on social media and challenged others to add accent marks on their jerseys, which were neglected prior.

In 2016, 27.4% of baseball players were Latino, ranking second to the percentage of players who were white. In addition, the MLB roster for the 2019 season represented players from “20 countries and territories by birthplace.” 

The campaign even spread beyond the world of baseball to other professional sports, like the National Basketball Association (NBA), and even Hollywood. Latino actors, such as Angélica Vale, requested accents to be added to their walk of fame stars.

“I love the idea of the MLB campaign because it encourages players and even fans to use accents. I think it is very honorable to Hispanic baseball players. These players are actually leaving marks, not only on their jerseys but everywhere. This campaign is a step to a more diverse sport,” said Ashley Canal (‘22).

There are a variety of reasons that accent marks are important, but the major reason is that they compose a large part of the Spanish language and culture. To erase them from our names and words feels like an erasure of our identity.

Including the accent mark in our names is a powerful way to represent our culture, and denying this form of cultural expression can be damaging. The refusal to recognize them limits the unique expression of Hispanic culture and limits the transmission of it from generation to generation. For many Hispanics born in English-speaking countries, the accent is nothing more than an inconvenient mark above certain letters.

History of the Accent Mark

Accent marks, also known as diacritics, are added above or below a letter in a word to indicate a specific pronunciation or meaning. They have been a part of language since the beginning of written history. The precursor to the accent mark was the apex, which was used in Latin inscriptions to mark long vowels. Accent marks could be straight lines, curvy lines, a pair of dots, or any other small symbol. 

Accent marks form a crucial part of the pronunciation and grammar of other languages, yet they rarely make an appearance in the English language. This is mainly because the English language did not originate from Latin or any other phonetic language, and thus does not prioritize the correlation between spelling and pronunciation. 

Other languages, like Spanish and French, include accents to facilitate the pronunciation of words. If you know the spelling and where the accent mark is, you know how to say it with the proper stresses. In the U.S., English speakers tend to omit the diacritic marks from words that are borrowed from other languages. Words such as hotel, role, and elite – which came from the French words hôtel, rôle and élite – have lost their accent marks over the years through the process of Anglicization as English speakers have deemed them unessential.

“I think it is very important for Hispanics to have accents on their names because it shows how they embrace their Latino culture. Without accents, names can lose their proper pronunciation. My last name used to have an accent. When my grandparents and my father moved to America, they changed their last name from Cañal to Canal,” said Canal (‘22).

Most formal institutions do not or refuse to recognize diacritical marks in names originating from Latin American or European countries. In the U.S., the federal government does not not allow individuals to use diacritical marks on any official paperwork, such as passports, birth certificates, and social security cards. The only non-letter characters that are recognized are hyphens and an apostrophe in names like O’Connell. However, laws differ across states to allow diacritical marks on state documents. 

This also trickles down into other institutions, like banks, schools, and workplaces, who use official documentation to register people into their systems. This causes the accent mark to almost always be omitted. In some places, if the online computer systems allow it, you can request for the accent to be added; however, this is typically a rare occurrence.

The Accent Mark at the Academy

At Academy and most other schools, students who have accents either in their first or last names do not have them displayed in the directory because it does not show up on documents. A common misconception is that the omission of accent marks only affects Hispanics, but this issue transcends beyond the Spanish language. French, German, Swedish, Portugese, Vietnamise, Welsh, and a variety of other languages also use accent marks.

“The accent mark in my name is important to me because it changes the [French] pronunciation completely which makes my name unique. Without it, it’s pronounced Lauren. It means a lot when people do include it because it shows that they take the time to add it, [which is] a part of my name that is often forgotten. I think schools and other institutions should include accent marks because they are a part of the name and are special,” said Laurèn Colquett (‘21).

When asked if accent marks are omitted from students’ names in the directory and, if students could request for accent marks to be added, Principal Stephanie Nitchals said, “We have no rule that says you can’t have an accent mark in your name and if students want it, they just need to let us know.”

At the Academy, there is a respect for culture and tradition that all faculty and staff possess as there are events all year dedicated to the purpose of educating students and celebrating all people.

“My thoughts are each person’s name is unique and names can be spelled/pronounced in any number of ways. If having an accent mark present on someone’s name can help a stranger pronounce another person’s name correctly, then it should be there. An accent mark can be an important piece of a person’s identity,” said Assistant Principal Erin Krukar.

As a result, if you have an accent mark on your name, even if it does not appear on official documents, speak up and say “Ponle Acento” on your name at the Academy.

A Call to Action

“The accent mark should be more widely recognized by institutions and schools. Hispanics may feel that they lose a part of themselves when they remove the accent. Accents are very special because they reflect a Latino’s heritage,” said Canal (‘22).

Rep. Terry Canales for the Texas House of Representatives fought to include accent marks on state documents, such as driver’s licenses. “Your name is what identifies you and if somebody’s not identifying you correctly, it’s almost a lack of respect,” he said in 2017.

Fortunately, legislation was passed in Texas allowing the use of diacritical marks in names. The law states, “The state registrar shall ensure that a vital statistics record issued under this title properly records any diacritical mark used in a person’s name.” In Florida and several other states, however, legislation does not exist to allow the use of accent marks, even though it should.

However, critics of including the accent on documentation state that the official language of the U.S. is English. Yet, “Hispanic people are the largest minority in the United States,” and the Census Bureau predicted that in 2060, 28.6% of the population will be Hispanic — 119 million people (in 2020, there are 59.8 million). Just because someone is a U.S. citizen or has immigrated here does not mean that a person must then detach themselves from their culture or forget it entirely; and by changing their name to exclude the accent, that is what they’re doing. U.S. citizens should not be given an ultimatum between American traditions and their culture.

Whether people realize it or not, the U.S. is home to several different cultures from around the world, who all have the opportunity to live amongst and learn from each other. Keeping the originality of people’s names is important in keeping this nation’s foundational principles. A name makes up a person’s identity just as much as their facial and physical features do. The George Washington Law Review in “Naming Baby: The Constitutional Dimensions of Parental Naming Rights” states, “If parents wish to name their child ‘Lucía’ or ‘José,’ they have a constitutional right to do so.” We agree.

Do you think it is unconstitutional to not allow U.S. citizens to have diacritical marks on their names?

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