• Irma Herrera

Ha-vier, Ex-a-vier, Sa-vier




The name Xavier has multiple correct pronunciations. But unless you’ve heard Xavier say his name or someone who knows tells you how it is pronounced, you can’t be certain. It could be any of these three options. So if you are mistaken when you say it it's totally understandable.


And there may be Xaviers out there who say their name yet another way. My friend Ana's spouse and son are named Xavier. They pronounce it Sa-vier or shortened it is Sah-vee, very pleasing and melodic. She told me that's how they pronounce it in El Salvador, her country of origin. I have also known several Ex-a-viers.


Reminder: in Spanish, the letter "h" is silent as in -- hola (hello) which sounds exactly like ola, which means wave as in the waves of the ocean. More generically ola can mean surge or movement. Spanish keeps it interesting by giving the "h" sound to two letters "j" and "x." Examples, jalapeños, José, or Mexico (Meh-he-co).

Do you get irritated when you hear names mispronounced? Some folks don't unless it's their own name, and some say even that doesn't bother them. Not me, it bugs me big time. I’m watching the local news when I hear this: "Today, California Attorney General EX-a-vier Becerra, sued the Trump Administration over its policy . . . blah, blah, blah." I tuned out within a flash of hearing Ex-a-vier. For me, it's like nails on chalkboard.


Wha? How can she not know how to say the name of the state's Attorney General? Well, whatever, she doesn’t, so I set out to teach her. I Google her and immediately find her email address at the local network affiliate. I write her a polite note telling her that the AG pronounces his name HA-vier, providing that phonetic guide. I explain that I know him personally and this is how he says it. She writes back shortly after coming off the air with a genuinely warm response. She did not know she was mispronouncing it and no one had brought it to her attention. She thanks me and says moving forward, she'll get it right. Mission Accomplished.

I appreciated her openness to receiving this. One of my favorite mantras popped into my head: "we don't know, what we don't know." But someone around her should know -- they are in the news business -- and this Xavier Becerra is often in the news. Before being named California's Attorney General, he served in Congress for 24 years and led the Hispanic Caucus for several years. Surely more seasoned newsroom veterans know his name. Maybe they never said it when discussing the lineup of that evening’s news stories,

The incident reminds me of the importance of diversity in the newsroom. When there are few or no editors, producers, and reporters from the communities where these “ethnic” names originate, you can be sure they won’t know how we say them. And you can also be sure that the issues that affect our communities are likely also getting short shift. Although we comprise a huge swath of our state’s population, Latinos just aren’t in the newsroom in numbers one would expect. It’s a well-documented fact that newsroom employees are less diverse than U.S. workers overall.

I loved these images from the Columbia Journalism Review article, The Disparity Times: 17% of US Newsroom Staff Is Not White (Fall 2018).

“The structural forces that contribute to the problem are well known and largely reflect how race and privilege intersect. The main entry points into the profession—unpaid internships and journalism schools—tend to favor people who come from wealthy backgrounds. Many jobs are never posted; hires are made through existing networks, in which people tend to affiliate and empathize, with those like themselves. When people of color do manage to get hired, they find a lack of formal mentorship and they are infrequently promoted into management positions. When job cuts come along—in the past 10 years, the newspaper workforce has been sliced in half—minorities are often among the first to go.” Got some time on your hands? Want to read the article, click here.

So much work needs to be done to give our kids the opportunities they deserve. The Covid-19 pandemic has only made more evident the enormous disparities in income, education, health, access to safety and safety nets, between the haves and the have nots. We gotta keep working to make these much-needed changes.

When I get discouraged, something else quickly reminds me of the positive changes I’ve seen in the past decades, and the second vignette in Episode 6 of this Stairwell Teatro Series is about one such positive change.

When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Appellate Judge Tani Cantil-Sakauye to the post of Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, lawyers were scrambling to learn the correct pronunciation of her name, especially those who argue before the Cal Supreme Court.


This picture of the Chief Justice brings me joy, and seeing a picture of the entire California Supreme Court keeps me smiling for days. Change is inevitable and sometimes those changes are huge. And those changes happen at the ballot box. Who gets appointed to these judgeships at the state level depends on Governors and at the federal level on the President and the US Senate. YOUR vote matters immensely, and never more than this November.

When I arrived in San Francisco in 1980 to work at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the California Supreme Court was led by its first woman Chief Justice, Rose Bird, who was also the first woman appointed to our state Supreme Court, and the ONLY woman serving at that time. Justice Wiley Manuel, also on the court was the first African American on California’s Supreme Court. The remaining five justices back in 1980 were white men. (Btw, it was at MALDEF where I met Xavier Becerra when was a summer law clerk when I worked there).

But back to the California Supreme Court. Up until two years ago, women were a majority of the justices and this was the case for several years. Wha? Yes for a period of time there were no white men on the California Supreme Court. When Justice Kathryn Werdegar retired, that seat was filled by Justice Joshua Groban.


Who can forget US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's famous words: “When I'm sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, 'When there are nine,' people are shocked. But there'd been nine men, and nobody's ever raised a question about that."

I have great confidence that the life experiences of justices who hail from different backgrounds are likelier to yield better decisions whether they are considering cases involving fraud in financial institutions, race and gender discrimination, environmental regulation, access to health care, or criminal justice. What does the Supreme Court look like in your state?


California's Chief Justice hails from farm working families who toiled the agricultural fields of California and the sugar cane and pineapple plantations of Hawaii. She is married to a Japanese-American whose career was spent as a police officer in Sacramento. Both she and her spouse were educated in the public schools and universities of our great state. This Chief Justice's educational background is quite a contrast to the fact that most folks selected for these high-level judicial positions were educated in Ivy League schools.


It’s no surprise that Chief Justice Cantil-Sakayue's annual State of the Judiciary delivered in March 2020 reflected on the importance of using the courts as “Places for Social Justice.” Click here for more info on her remarks.

Thank you for watching my Stairwell Teatro Series and reading my blog, if you enjoy them, please share with your friends and continue to send me your comments and ideas for future episodes.


It's now been two months since the seriousness of Covid-19 really hit home. Even though some areas of the country are starting to open up, let us proceed with great caution. By staying the course we reduce the losses, every death and illness caused by Covid-19 brings heartache and extraordinary pain to the families and friends directly affected. So please let's avoid unnecessary trips outside of our homes and when we must leave home, wearing masks is essential and is most places required. Let's keep washing our hands often. Be kind and considerate to all our essential workers, and generous to those in need. The safety of our nation (and the whole world) depends on each of us doing our part to stop the spread of Covid-19.


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© 2016 Irma Herrera