As I work on completing my master’s thesis this year, I made the decision to change my name. Now my professional name is Nicolas Toledo Shump, the addition being my mother’s maiden name.
For my entire personal and professional life, I have been Nicky, Nick, Nicolas or Nic. Shump remained the only constant to my identity. And yet, my father had virtually no role in my life. For her own reasons, my mother decided not to revert to her maiden name Toledo or to change the name of her children.
In adulthood, two of my brothers did legally change their name to Toledo, dropping the Shump altogether. I chose not to do the same and though my writing will carry the Toledo name, my legal name remains Nicolas Shump.
The decision to change my name has much to do with the time in which we live and even more so with a gradual reassessment of the influence my mother played in my life. As I work on a memoir for my thesis, I necessarily am looking back over my life and the formative events to write about.
My mother Ramona Toledo grew up in the Oakland neighborhood of Topeka, as did most Mexican-Americans of her generation. She resided only blocks away from both the Santa Fe Railroad shops and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. The Mexican presence in Topeka and throughout Kansas is vibrant and strong, just as it is in my own life.
Though my mother did not live or raise her family in Oakland, I still received my sacraments of baptism and marriage at Our Lady. My maternal grandfather, Vicente Toledo continued to live in his house on Lake Street where he raised my mother and her sisters.
Usually once a month, my family would attend Mass at Our Lady and go to visit my grandfather at his house. Though communication between my grandfather and I was difficult because I spoke virtually no Spanish, I can still recall his raspy voice and the stubble on his cheek when he would greet me with a hug.
Growing up as Nick Shump, most of my friends and classmates did not know of my Mexican heritage. I still remember my mother’s anger when she learned my middle school had classified me as "Caucasian" on my enrollment. She had it corrected the next day. My mother’s decision to not teach us Spanish or speak it in our home, she claimed was for privacy.
As I learned how she and her classmates were punished for speaking her native language, I believe she had other reasons as well. However, when she had cleaning to do or was feeling blue, she would play her Vicente Fernandez or Vicki Carr on the stereo console. She would attend Mexican dances on the weekends with me as her designated dance partner.
She would sprinkle Spanish into her conversation especially terms of endearment like "mi hijito," my little son.
My life might have been different as Nic Toledo, but regardless, the culture I imbibed in my childhood was undeniably Mexican and as much as possible I have passed this down to my own children. In an age where being Mexicans are demonized and where Hispanic heritage is not always appreciated, I find it necessary to embrace my identity fully.
Nicolas Toledo Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.