September 15, 2016

GUEST ROOM | The Ñ Files

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Growing up in Puerto Rico I was taught two alphabets in school, English and Spanish. To most people they appear the same, but my classmates and I learned the subtle differences. We were taught the effect letters such as ch, ll, rr and ñ could have on a word. The letter that stuck with me was “ñ.” It is a universal symbol for the Spanish language and, to me, a unique part of my family name. For many years, the “ñ” in my last name was mispronounced, exchanged for an “n,” or simply ignored. It never used to bother me until I saw Uzo Aduba tell the story of asking her mother to change her name to Zoe because of its difficulty. Her mother responded with, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.” That was the moment when my perspective shifted.

Up until that point, whenever I was away from my home in Puerto Rico I would pronounce my name with an “n” to make it easier for my companions. I now proudly declare the “ñ” in Fortuño whenever I get the chance. This shift in my attitude led me to the University Registrar to rectify a wrongdoing made when I enrolled as a freshman. My name has never had an “ñ” in the eyes of Cornell officials because I was told that it was “impossible to enter accents in our system.” While I was aware that one could easily enter diacritical marks on any computer, I accepted the answer because I was a timid freshman. Now, as a tenacious senior, I am determined to have the diploma that I worked tirelessly for represent my true identity, and not the Anglicized version. I headed to Day Hall with my birth certificate and the hope that three years was enough time for university technology to catch up with the capabilities my iPhone has had for years. Unfortunately, I was given the exact same response this time around. I tried to explain that a simple “Atl + 164” would do the trick on the office PC, but was met with the same resistance and sent to another office.

As a university striving for diversity and inclusion, there seems to be an issue with including its diverse students. Ultimately, the registrar at the Hotel School graciously worked with me to find a solution to my problem. A few minutes, some simple keystrokes and the foundations of hospitality the program instills were all that was necessary to remedy an issue I had been struggling with for three years. I wanted to overcome this hurdle for all the Édouards, Marías, Noëls, Peñas and all other diacritically marked names to come. They should not have to walk around with a permanent marker changing every name tent, class list and name tag that comes their way. My name is not Fortuno, Fortuny or Fortu(error letter not found)o. I am Isabel Fortuño and I want Cornell, and the world, to know it.

Isabel Fortuño is a senior in the School of Hotel Administration. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.