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Sheriff Arpaio, just change your name

by Orlando Rodriguez

In 2008, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was sued for racial profiling of Latinos. In a separate case, Arpaio’s office agreed to pay $200,000 to two Latino men for illegally detaining them. His deputies suspected they were illegal immigrants for no reason besides driving a pickup truck and looking illegal. The men are Julian Mora and his son Julio. Julian is a legal permanent resident and his son is an American citizen. In a recent radio interview with the Rev. Al Sharpton, Arpaio’s comments provide insight into his hyper?zealous enforcement of immigration laws that also ensnare legal residents.

During the interview, Sheriff Joe’s very first comments were to correct Sharpton on his pronunciation of Arpaio. Arpaio does not like Sharpton’s pronunciation of his surname because he thinks it sounds Latino. Sheriff Joe has corrected Sharpton before for this linguistic faux pas.  Sheriff Joe says that Arpaio is an Italian surname and he wants it pronounced in italiano. Sheriff Joe insists on his Italian pronunciation of Arpaio (ar-PY’-oh), which is a trivial and adolescent demand. So what’s the big deal?

I initially assumed Arpaio was Latino because of his surname, and it is likely that most people make the same assumption. Arpaio might be a bit over sensitive to this cultural mis-identification. Is Arpaio’s zeal for rounding-up illegal immigrants a response to a lifetime of being mistaken for Latino because of his Latinoish surname? Instead of empathizing with the stigma of being Latino, has Arpaio gone to the opposite extreme of doing all he can to prove that he is not Latino? Did being mistaken for Latino drive him to the dark side?

I have two suggestions for Arpaio to help him solve his problem. First, take a lesson from Luke Skywalker who walked into a dark cave and confronted his demons. Luke emerged from the cave having come to terms with his dark side. Luke also left adolescence behind in the cave. Arpaio may benefit from such a cave awakening. The other option is for Joe Arpaio to change his surname to something obviously non?Latino, like Smith. There is no chance of being mistaken for Latino with a name like Joe Smith.

The consequences of a surname change for Arpaio, and other non-Latinos with Latinoish surnames, could be monumental for Latinos. Non-Latinos would no longer have to overcompensate for having a Latinoish surname by becoming anti-Latino. It is not realistic for Latinos to change their surnames, which have become quite common in the U.S. Garcia is the 18th most common surname, Martinez is 19th, Rodriguez is 22nd, and Hernandez is 29th. Arpaio is so uncommon in the U.S. that it does not appear in the Census Bureau’s list of surnames.

To learn more about Orlando, visit his Bio Page.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. jorge v says:

    Hello, now I am not sure but I was told many years ago a mexican illegal drunk driver killed his daughter. I guess that would explain for his ravid attitude toward latinos, because in his italian eyes we all look and act alike!! :)

    Tucson, Az. resident,

  2. life will collect on his wrong-doings against humanity, regardless of the reason. he is hateful, horrible, maybe some day he’ll need a blood transfusion that will come from an immigrant, that’ll teach him (no, i don’t wish harm on him) although he would probably wish it on me

  3. I COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY agree with this article. No surprise that Joe Arpaio is of Italian [probably Southern Italian] ancestry which would explain his complejo. I live in the Northeast where there are many Italian-Americans and they go a long way trying to distance themselves from Hispanics. Ironically, you would think that Italians being latinos [even though they deny it] would feel a bond to Hispanics but they don’t. The problem is that since most Italians are dark complexioned, have similar features to Hispanics and have Spanish sounding surnames, they can easily be confused for Hispanics. They, however, are deadly afraid of being associated with a group of people who are not considered white and are also considered an underclass, a minority. I remember, there used to be this Italian-American woman who used to work in a supermarket that I used to go to. She was dark and everyone used to address her in Spanish. She would blow a gasket whenever anyone dared to speak to her in Spanish and shout, SPEAK ENGLISH, THIS IS AMERICA! And how can forget that obnoxious Italian-American Congressman Tom Tancredo who was always attacking Hispanics and sporting English Only. He was, also, against undocumented Hispanics, etc… He even went to Miami and started to gratuitously attack Cuban Americans. Oh, and what about that Italian in Philadelphia who owns a pizzera and he kicks out anyone who speaks Spanish. The list can go on and on.

  4. Perhaps they have a case against Hispanics because Mexicans are the largest group of ILLEGALS. We do speak English here…. Spanish is a foreign language. You all seem want illegals to get special amnesty but show no gratitutde by simple learning and speaking English instead of demanding we supply translators.

    Perhaps Italians are ashamed to be associated with the trash that sneaks cross the border. Ever see the trash they leave in their wake? The man in Philly simply asked that people order in English…..he didn’t kick anyone out. If I went to Mexico could I demand all services in English? Would they enroll my children and teach them in English?

  5. Daniel Ruiz says:

    Now lets not knock all Italians. I also live now in the Northeast and am related to a few Italians who have married into my Puerto RIcan family. Are some Italians racist and delusional as to how “white” they are? Sure. But I also have met just as many who acknowledge how southern Italians are racially mixed and that they feel a bond to Latinos. In addition, more Italians went to Latin America than to the US. So the reason we share appearances and last names is due to the mass immigration to Latin America which has been forgotten by Latinos and unknown to many Italians.

    Besides I have met Latinos who are just as racist and delusional as to their own whiteness. Plus we also have the idiots who spout the stupid belief that all Latinos are mestizos thereby denying or ignoring the racial diversity of Latin America. Or those who claim, as though they are experts, that we are only African, Indigenous, and Spanish/Portuguese when our ethnic and racial diversity is pretty awesome.

  6. Daniel, good point. Of course, I don’t mean to knock all Italians, but there seems to be an inordinate number of Italians that get involved in high-profile racist [often anti-Hispanic] activities. Let’s not forget the infamous case back in the late seventies, or early eighties [can’t remember] of the black kid that was chased down by a predominately Italian-American mob and was caught and killed because he dared walk down the streets of Howard Beach which back then was predominately Southern Italian, or the various high profile murders of blacks and Puerto Ricans by NYC cop; many of those cops have been Italian-Americans. One incident that sticks out in my mind for its ferocity was the case of the Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, who was almost killed by a dark complexioned Southern Italian; the darker ones seem to be the most acomplejado, since they have to prove their whiteness by being extra racist. This cop, Justin Volpe, sodimized Louima with a boomstick that ruptured some internal organs.

  7. Daniel Ruiz says:

    You all? So every Latino in the US wants Amnesty for illegals? That is as stupid as saying all whites want a Right wing christian-military dictatorship or all blacks want a left-wing socialist paradise where they can enslave whites. Do some Latinos want amnesty for illegals? Sure. Do some Latinos want all illegals deported. Sure (myself included). Like all groups we split on what side we are on based upon geography and at times along national origin. But I am guessing you are just a typical internet troll with no knowledge of the differences between Latinos who finds it easier to idiotically assume that we all must think alike.

    Do the world a favor find a tall building and jump. Or better yet, learn the differences between the people from an entire section of the world before making ridiculous comments online so as to not come across as a complete fool.

  8. Ah, no, I don’t think so. The reason that many Italians like Joe Arpaio are so outrageously prejudice is because they have an inferiority complex and don’t want to be confused with Hispanics, so they have to be extra prejudice in order to prove to others that they are different. Because, honestly, if we’re talking about illegals, I don’t think its the place of Italian-Americans to point fingers. You know how many Italian-Americans came here illegally? The slur WOP which is used against Italian-Americans is short for “With Out Papers.” That slur was not just gratuitously given to Italian Americans. There’s a self-explanatory reason for it.

    As far as English is concerned, I don’t think that its the place of that man in Philly to demand service in English. What if a tourist from Spain came over and asked for a pizza in Spanish? I’ve been to Europe and I’ve spoken to Europeans in English, because I don’t speak other languages. Thank God that the Europeans were kind enough to understand that and serve me. Can you imagine if I went to Norway or Finland and was kicked out of a store because I didn’t speak Norwegian or Finnish? As far as Mexico is concerned, many people in Mexico speak English. I’ve been to Mexico many times and I’ve seen Mexicans speaking English to American tourists. In fact, Mexicans are very accommodating, especially in the resorts and major tourist areas, big department stores and restaurants.

  9. Bantonio says:

    I’m half Italian myself (half Dutch) and my Italian roots are Neapolitan, so that is southern.
    I don’t live in the USA (the Netherlands) so my outlook on these ethno/sociopolitical issues might vary somewhat, but finding this page while browsing I fely compelled to contribute.
    In terms of looks, I have brown hair, green/grey eyes and am throughout the year quite dark complexioned.
    In Holland, the dominant phenotype is nordic and I am usually perceived as foreign or at least mixed.
    Personally I am happy and proud of my roots and embrace the fact that I am perceived as not 100% Dutch but something more exotic.

    Ok, now here’s my point: I usually feel toe-cringingly ashamed when I hear about Italian-(American) prejudices against other immigrants, especially people from Latin American countries.
    Having been on vacation in Spain often, I picked up Spanish quite quickly and have always felt a connection with the Spanish language through my Italian ancestry. By extension, I have also always felt a kinship with Latin American culture.
    So, whereas the connection between Italian and Latin Americans through an American perspective might be marked by difference, the connection from my European outlook has always been inspired and motivated by similarity.

    That’s why I commend Daniel Ruiz’ entry fullheartedly.

    I must partially correct Ray’s explanation on the derogatory term WOP.
    Allthough I agree with your reasoning that the Italian Americans shouldn’t point their fingers as earlier generations experienced similar difficulties, the actual term WOP derives from the Neapolitan dialect, more precisely the term ‘guappo’, which in turn is derived from the Spanish ‘guapo’. (Southern Italy was visited/ruled/invaded/occupied by many different peoples, varying from Arabic, Northern African, Greek, Normandic, French and SPANISH)

    I have often been mistaken for Argentinian or Brazilian due to my mix of dark and light features and felt good being perceived as such.
    Moreover, I have an Equatorian girlfriend whom I once asked how Italians were perceived in for instance Equador.
    When I asked if they were perceived as ‘gringos’ she said ‘, they might be different, but not gringos’.

    Entonces: me encantaria que los italianos estarian mas orgulloso de su naturaleza mezcladoen lugar de luchar por su posicion ‘blanco’ recientemente ganado (que es un construcion artificial) a costa de nuevos immigrantes.
    A mi me parece hipocrita.

    (I would like to see Italians to be more proud of their rich diverse and mixed heritage instead of holding on to their recently gained ‘white’ status at the expense of more recent immigrants.
    To me it’s just hipocrite.
    Thanks for reading.

  10. LOU VALLEY says:

    best artical i read yet from Bantonio because i can relate to what you are saying been part mexican and part italian
    the word WOP and WET BACK are used in the same meaning illeageal.
    and you are right Italians should not point fingers they were biggest flow of immigrants to hit this country.
    this guy Joe Arpaio is a big hipocrt i don’t think he even wants to be known as Italian becaues he changed his name from
    Giuseppe to JOE to sound more white.
    people tend to forget that we are all immigrants in this country except for the American Indian

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