…Okay, here’s one for you: I’m retiring my last name Gomez for the one my ancestor Eladio brought over to Mexico City from a village in Portugal as a teenage immigrant: Games. Spoken aloud, the names sound similar, but I want my children’s last name to be spelled G-A-M-E-S. Maybe they can sneak past getting mail in Spanish only, and other things that come along with being presumed Latino. Which we don’t really feel.
…Eladio married a girl in New Mexico named Sparrow. She was reportedly often distracted and melancholy. Eladio was by accounts a young man of enterprising character and found work right away using the identity of a man named Oscar Gomez, recently deceased. Mysterious to me in that Eladio took not only Oscar’s name, but his job and woman as well.
…Eladio had six children with Sparrow, one of whom was my grandfather: Casimiro Gomez. He was the second son. Sparrow loved him dearly, and sometimes she called him Oscar.
…Eladio volunteered to fight in France during the Great War. It’s said he came home shell shocked. He got into the liquor trade when Prohibition kicked off, and moved his family to Los Angeles during the Great Depression for work when Prohibition was canceled. His experience as a war veteran found him a job as a cop and over time he hustled his way to being a vice detective.
…Casimiro eventually moved to Napa to work as a vineyard farmhand and then off to France to fight Germans because that’s what he was drafted to do. He returned battle fatigued to California, to Oakland, where he started his own family and became a smuggler through Eladio’s connections. He relocated his mother and two sisters to join him. He became the father of seven children himself.
…Sparrow remains in my memory an old woman in a wheelchair on my Aunt Gloria’s porch, distracted and melancholy, the ashes of her Virginia Slims always several inches long. She never learned to speak English and outlived Eladio by decades. Everyone called her Sparrow.
…The required public announcement for legally changing Gomez to Games was published yesterday for the first time in a local paper, I think. I paid for it. Not cheap. I hope my car doesn’t know. Publishing today and tomorrow will satisfy the terms of the law. I’ll get an affidavit in paper mail stating I satisfied that part of the process and then it’s back to the judge who already approved the change. It should be a done deal soon.
…I don’t believe my grandfather would think worse of me for it. Sitting at his kitchen table listening to horse races on the radio with his own Pall Mall ashes so long it made me nervous. Sometimes he talked to my father and I about how our family name had once been Games, and that we weren’t Mexican. We were Colombian and Portuguese. His mother Sparrow had been born in Medellín. I’m not sure what my own father would think of the name change, though he does live in Medellín now.
…Eladio’s name is coming back on the board. I did it for my boy and my girl, and not for the kind of ancestral return I claimed on the application. I know there has been name based prejudice in my life and if I can buy my children’s way out of it, I’ll take the surreal identity shift. Is it a little conformist? And do I think about how my son might someday choose to pronounce G-A-M-E-S in a way that sounds considerably different than Gomez? Yes. Maybe learning the shape of my environment and trying to live in it has been one of survival’s lessons, and that’s part of what I am going through.
Sparrow’s great grandson.
Paul Games loves silk ties, sometimes pop music, and identifies as a Rocker. He is an MFA graduate of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder and has been an Adjunct Professor of First Year Writing at Metro in Denver since 2018. His son loves tennis and his daughter loves her friends. His wife tolerates him. His parents are alive. He likes to read thrillers and enjoys long sessions in remarkably hot sauna settings, though not at the same time. He is a Triple Virgo. He is from Oakland, CA.