Lost in Translation: Aaron Peña's Tilde-less Entry into the Republican Party

Blogger's Note: This post initially appeared today as a guest column in the Rio Grande Guardian.  It is reprinted here with permission.  I have received some really interesting feedback from Guardian readers today and am hoping to share some of the emails I've received in the upcoming days.  If you have any feedback, feel free to leave it in the comments below or email me.  

Rachel Farris
AUSTIN, Jan. 3 - When Aaron Peña switched parties a few weeks ago, he lost more than just the trust of his Democratic constituency. He lost, in the seemingly innocuous omission of a tilde, his heritage.

Peggy Fikac of the Houston Chronicle has been covering the Republican Party's decision to remove the tilde from Aaron Peña's name in their press release welcoming Peña to the party. Republican Party spokesman, Craig Elam, told Fikac in the Chronicle that tildes don't always "translate properly" in email. He went on to joke that "since it's become a big deal, I said, the heck with it - I'm putting a tilde on everything." 

I suppose it's too much to ask of a party that wants to strip minorities of their right to vote and, in Arizona, a Party that has now banned ethnic studies, to understand the nuances of another language. It must be easy, if you're the all-powerful Republican Party of Texas, to glibly toss tildes wherever they are convenient -- or where they might get votes.

Peña, with the tilde, is a surname derived from the original Spanish surname of de la Peña, meaning "of the rock." Indeed, the translation of Peña means a rock or stone. 

With his conservative voting record, Aaron Peña was never the "rock or stone" of the Democratic Party as his last name would imply. But he did represent the rock that was the Democratic stronghold in South Texas. His constituents -- many with accents and tildes over their own names, representing years of fighting for their diverse heritage -- block-walked for him, phone banked for him, bought his t-shirts and yard signs, donated money to him, prayed with him and voted for him.

So, it's poetic, really, what the Republican Party lost in translation for the sake of properly formatted emails.


"Penar," sans tilde, is the Spanish verb "to punish," with the naked "pena" meaning "punishment or penalty" when used as a noun. "Grief, sorrow and pain" comprise the second definition of "pena" and, finally, aptly, "a shame, a pity" is the third and final definition.

It is the stuff of parables: The tilde-less turncoat who lost sight of the people he was elected to represent -- and lost his meaning in return.

It's a shame.  It's a pity.

Native Austinite and Democratic activist, Rachel Farris writes MeanRachel.com, a progressive blog that covers everything from local congressional races, to social media strategies, to places with rockin' piano bars. She covered the 2008 Democratic National Convention with The Texas Observer team and has spoken about social media and communications at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, Texas State University's "Mass Communication Week" and St. Edward's University. She also writes for The Huffington Post. She recently organized "Call Out Aaron Peña Day," an online protest of Rep. Peña's party switch.  

Editor's Note: The Guardian is actively looking for op-eds in support of Rep. Peña's party switch. We have commisioned a couple and will be posting them soon. Anyone wishing to submit an op-ed should e-mail it, with a photo and bio, to ngarza@riograndeguardian.com
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3 Response to "Lost in Translation: Aaron Peña's Tilde-less Entry into the Republican Party"

  • missris Says:

    I think what Pena (sans tilde) did was absolutely despicable. It's also pretty apparent that this move was calculated and premeditated. He stood on the backs of his loyal constituents in order to get elected in a strongly democratic area and then he switched parties as soon as he was elected. Coincidence? I think not. If I were one of his former supporters I'd be outraged. I'd love to read what people are saying.


  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Thanks Ris. You're not alone in feeling that way. Most people feel like it was a very duplicitous move.

    I hope to have some letters posted this evening.


  • SenorAlki Says:

    AWESOME! I live in Hidalgo County but not in Aaron Pity's district and I can tell you that people are outraged at his deception. I can't wait for a special election to get him to show his true colors (black, like his Republican't heart).