Leaving Oklahoma was always my dream. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in broadcast journalism, Iâ€™ve had many friends who went on to bigger and â€œbetterâ€ things in the world of broadcast entertainment. I had opted to stay in Oklahoma and found work at News 9. Donâ€™t get me wrong, seeing Gary England and Kelly Ogle everyday was rewarding in itself, but I did have this feeling that I needed to get out and see what the world had in store for me. So thatâ€™s exactly what I did last August. I packed up and moved to Minneapolis. During that time I got married and had a baby. Nevertheless, as soon as I moved to the Twin Cities, I was looking for the opportunities to roll in. I was confident! I had done well in school and I had a passion for storytelling. I always believed myself to be a hardworking creative. With all of my credentials and experience, I was positive I would not have a hard time finding my dream job in a bigger city. But, boy was I wrong.
After sending in application after application and not hearing back from even one employer, I had a crisis of confidence.
â€œIs this really what Iâ€™m worth?â€ I thought miserably. â€œNot even worth a call back?â€
Weeks turned into months. Month after month, I became more desperate. My husband who transferred to the University of Minnesota had us move into student family housing that fall. I was so desperate for work and connections I began to create and edit videos for the housing office free of charge! It was important to me to keep up my resume. It would prove I wanted to work. It was during our stay in student family housing, that I was fortunate enough to meet a couple who would become good family friends.
One day we invited our friends, who are a part of an Asian ethnic group known as Hmongs, Lang* and her husband James*, over for dinner. We sat down and I began to question them about race in todayâ€™s society. James is a human resource manager at a fairly large company in downtown Minneapolis. But what he said to me in all seriousness, I found both funny and appalling.
â€œChange your name,” he said.
Since James was somewhat of an â€œoriginalâ€ American name, he was able to land an interview with his company and get a job. He admits that even though he is a minority, he himself tends to look through piles of resumes and unconsciously starts omitting names that suggest the applicant is a minority. Â â€œI donâ€™t know whyâ€¦but if I see a â€˜John Smithâ€™ and a â€˜Lang Chin,â€ Â I choose â€˜Smithâ€™. Regardless of education or experience, many people in HR just want to make things simple. They donâ€™t want to have to worry about communication and language barriers. Some even have biased opinions on whether they would be hard workers to begin with. It becomes a hassle.â€
By then, I was floored. I began to question my own efforts to land a jobâ€¦is that really why no one called me back?
My maiden name is Esther Chong. My first name, maybe it can pass, but CHONG! And now my married name doesnâ€™t seem to make it any easier either â€“ Hong. Yes, just take the C – from Chong and you get my married name. Apparently this is a very hard concept for people to understand, much less pronounce? Â And it somehow makes me lazier than some random guy named â€œSmithâ€ too?
I told James of the numerous resumes Iâ€™d emailed to prospective employers. His response was, â€œNo offense to you, and donâ€™t get upset, but they were most likely not even looked at. Thatâ€™s just how it is.â€
James clued me into new studies about this â€œraceâ€ factor. One person would send in the exact resume with different names to companies, but it was the person with the more â€œAmericanâ€ name that would be called in for an interview whereas the other would not even get a call back. Despite this disheartening news, we managed to enjoy a night filled with wine and Korean food; later our conversation would lead us to poke fun at our Korean names.
Sometime later, Â I did contemplate as to whether or not I should change my name to get a job. I joked around with my husband, â€œMaybe I should put my name down as Esther â€˜Watsonâ€™ and once I get the interview, Iâ€™ll just tell them it was a typo?â€
In thinking about this, I found it made me miss my friends, past professors, past employers, and the closeness within this tight-knit community I had in Oklahoma. My move to Minneapolis was a life-changer. I think the â€œraceâ€ factor is an ongoing problem throughout this country and itâ€™s keeping specific people unemployed. It happens everywhere, but it doesnâ€™t make it right. Letâ€™s be honest: thereâ€™s no such thing as a benign system of institutional racism.
After a year of searching, I now have a job in downtown Minneapolis. I am writing this in my small cubicle of an office, and I am happy to be in my â€œsmall cubicle of an office.â€
But donâ€™t worry about me; I used my own name to get this position.
Iâ€™m going to leave off with a money question: would you really change your name to get a job interview for people who are kind of racist or would you make them accept you on your own terms?
Feel free to discuss it among yourselves.