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Volokh Conspiracy

Robert E. Lee Becomes Roberto Eduardo Leon: An Affirmative Action Controversy from 1979


From People Magazine, April 17, 1979:

Anyone saddled with a name as fraught with history as Robert E. Lee might be forgiven the impulse to change it. But when retired Navy Captain Robert Earl Lee, 56, recently cast off that load in favor of Roberto Eduardo Leon, the response was something short of sympathy.

Leon, who earns $27,857 a year monitoring noise control for the Montgomery County (Md.) Environmental Protection Department, used the name change to apply for the county's affirmative action program—and the pledge of promotions ahead of equally qualified white males….

Leon bridles at the charge that he is an "instant Hispanic." He points to a Spanish grandfather and a childhood in San Diego, where, surrounded by Latino playmates, he began speaking Spanish in high school…..

Meanwhile the county's newest, most controversial Hispanic is getting accustomed to his new heritage, if not terribly serious about it. "One of my compatriots called me a Spic," he says, "and we had a big laugh over it."

I didn't see that one coming.