It is reportedly a tradition to roast a freshman senator after he or she successfully passes their first bill, but for Democratic state Senator Joe Nguyen, however, the roast hit a more personal note when they made fun of his name.
According to The Stranger, it’s customary for senators to roast those who are new after they have passed their first bill. Democratic Sen. Jeannie Darneille, the report said, “ribbed him for introducing Swedish furniture and televisions in his office” while Sen. Kaiser “complained about the iPad he uses to sign in visitors.”
However, the jokes hit below the belt when Republican Sen. Phil Fortunato and Minority Leader Mark Schoesler took a jab at Nguyen’s last name.
“I’d like to know how you get ‘win’ out of Nguyen,” Fortunato said on the senate floor.
“I’m going to work really hard to learn to spell and pronounce member ‘new guy’s’ name, and hopefully by the end of this session he’ll be able to spell and pronounce my name,” Schoesler said.
“It’s exhausting, man,” Nguyen told The Stranger. “When people ridicule my name on the Senate floor. When they make racist comments unknowingly on a regular basis. When I have to explain institutional racism to members of my own caucus sometimes. It gets exhausting.”
While some of his colleagues brushed off the joke as nothing more than just playful teasing, Nguyen expresses that there is a larger issue at play here.
“The reason why it’s so frustrating and dehumanizing is that if they don’t even respect you enough to learn how to say your name, they won’t respect your values and respect your ideals,” he told Huffington Post. “When we had it on the Senate floor … it kind of just showed their thought process.”
He then told Huffington Post that he spoke with the two colleagues who mocked him, and emphasized that it’s imperative to speak out on the issue instead of letting it slide off. Further noting that his is an issue of representation.
“Any time you minimize somebody’s existence whether it’s through their name or other means, it’s detrimental for the community. … It’s one of those things where it’s so fundamental to the core that if you don’t take the time to learn somebody’s name, it doesn’t give me much faith that you’ll fight for that community as well,” Nguyen told the publication.
Nguyen stressed the importance for Asian Americans to educate people outside of our own community and to keep pushing for respect. However, the 35-year-old senator admitted that he mispronounced his name in the past.
“None of this is a shock, and that’s why I was kind of numb when it happened,” he said. “This is the same thing that happened in elementary school. It was the same thing that happened in high school. … It’s actually my bad for being desensitized by it. I should be fighting harder.”
“It’s interesting when you see an Asian person speak up for themselves ― the reaction isn’t always what they’d hoped for, to the point where they even question why I get to speak out on my own behalf,” Nguyen said on the topic of the stereotype where Asians are perceived as quiet and subservient.
Despite the reaction, though, Nguyen said that this didn’t stop him from speaking out.
“It’s hilarious,” he continued. “Because then I’ll just point to someone else and question why that person gets to be X, Y and Z.”
Featured image screenshot via YouTube / westseattleblog