When Remedios Aguilar first applied to VeekCorp she knew better than to put her real name on the resume. She was familiar with the studies that showed that people with ‘ethnic’ names tend to get fewer job offers. She was going to make it easier on herself. ‘Once I get my foot in the door…’ she told herself as she wrote the fake name on her CV. She changed her name to Riley. It was an easy, Protestant, proper name. Easier for Americans to pronounce. She had learned in primary school that her name made others uncomfortable. Their lips and faces contorted as they called her name in attendance. But it was Kansas City, and like her mother told her, ‘at least they try.’
“Excuse me, miss,” the secretary said. “Mr. Williams will see you now.”
Remedios thanked her; the name on her desk placard read Lucy L. She wondered if that too was a fake name, some other adoption to survive in the corporate world. Or maybe, she too had been renamed, as someone’s joke because she was Asian-American.
She was escorted by Lucy L. to the conference room.
“Here we are,” Lucy L. said. “Good luck.”
Tobias Williams, SVP of Global Distribution, waved her over.
“Good morning, sir, thank you for taking the time to meet with me today,” Remedios said. She was told to always be thankful, grateful, and smiling.
“Sure thing,” he said.
He was wearing a crisp, starched suit with his legs crossed. His slacks rose to reveal checkered long socks. His blond hair was slicked back, which made his hairline look thinner and wispier. His disposition vacillated between utter disinterest and confusion. Remedios also noticed a slick gold hoop in his ear.
She wondered if that was the benefit of reaching the top of the hierarchy — you could become your true self. Perhaps, she thought, with each promotion he added more flare to his look, more items or styles he had once been told were inappropriate for the workplace. That gave her some comfort. Eventually I can be me. Eventually I can use my name.
They spoke for twenty minutes, with Tobias regularly checking his watch. The interview was for an assistant position reporting directly to him. Pay was good, more than Remedios had ever made — $30,000 plus over-time during the company’s busy season in June. She kept dividing the salary into weekly amounts; it made the money more tangible and real.
“Alright, any questions for me?” Tobias said, as he closed his binder with a copy of her resume.
Remedios shook her head. She knew it was better when you did ask questions. It showed interest and engagement in the position, but she already felt she was wasting this important man’s time.
“Okay.” He rose and shook her hand. “We’ll let you know in a few days, thanks, Riley.”
As she heard the name, all the joy and fantasies of finally paying off her student loans, getting a better apartment, disappeared. They weren’t for her, they were for Riley. As he walked her back to the front lobby, he thanked her again and disappeared into an adjacent office.
“He likes you,” Lucy L. squeaked.
“How can you tell?”
“He never walks any of the candidates out unless he likes them. It’s a good sign.”
She smiled; she genuinely appreciated her kindness, that type of solidarity among the junior employees. However, she still grappled with being called the wrong name for however long she chose to work at VeekCorp — two, three, ten years. All while being called out of her name.
She sat in her beat-up Corolla, letting the warmth of the steering wheel heat her hands. Remedios looked at the copies of her resume, and studied the names on each page. Before her father died, he told her, ‘You will have to do things others won’t just because of where we come from.’
When her parents arrived in the States they also changed their names. They wanted new names for a new life, names that would bring them respect and opportunities. Her father went from Fecundo to Laurence (after Laurence Olivier) and her mother went from Porfiria to Scarlett (after Scarlett O’Hara). Her grandmother insisted on her namesake, Remedios. Her parents, unable to deny the family matriarch any requests, obliged, hoping their daughter would inherit a different world than they did.
She laid her head on the steering wheel and took a few deep breaths and promised to correct them; if she did get the job, she would give herself back her name. I at least have to try.
Three days later her phone rang.
“Hello, this is Remedios.”
“Pardon, can I please speak to Riley?”
“This is she.”
“I thought your name was Riley…” some papers ruffled in the background, and then the voice, a bit agitated, returned. “What is your real name?”
“Oh. I like Riley better,” the woman said, as if giving her a tip on how to wear her hair. “Anyways, we would like you to do a three-month trial with us.”
Remedios thought of her parents. Her father was in his starched mechanic jumpsuit and her mother in the raggedy t-shirts she wore to clean people’s houses. She remembered the way her friends’ parents looked at them when they came over. They weren’t called miss or mister when addressed — their names were spoken when followed by an order. Perhaps, she reasoned, this is the way out and up.
“Hello? Riley? Are you there?” The woman asked.
She took a breath. Sometimes we have to do things others won’t… she repeated her father’s words, eulogizing her name.
“Yes, I’m here,” she responded. “I’m here.”
Madari Pendàs is a Cuban-American writer, painter, and poet living in Miami. Her works focus on the surreal aspects that accompany the exile experience and the ways Latinidad intersects with other salient parts of her identity, like being woman, queer, and working-class. She has received literary awards from Florida International University, in the categories of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, as well as the 2020 Arkana Editor’s Choice Award for Creative Non-fiction. Her work has appeared in The Acentos Review, Pank Magazine, The New Tropic, Lambda Literary, Jai-Alai Books, Politicsay, The Beacon, The Courtship of Winds, The Flagler Review, Sinister Wisdom, Junto Magazine, The Courtship of Winds, Saudade County Press, MOKO Magazine, WLRN (Miami’s NPR affiliate), and The Miami New Times. She is currently a graduate student at Florida International University.