VERNE IN ENGLISH – FIRSTHAND STORIES

How do you do, my name is Hitler...

A lot of people say they’d change their name if they were me

This is me, Giovanni Hitler.
This is me, Giovanni Hitler.Samuel Sanchez / EL PAÍS

For a short time a few years ago in a small town in Ecuador, Hitler, Lenin, and Bolívar lived under the same roof. I’m Hitler, Lenin is my younger brother, and Bolívar was my father.

“Ecuador is different: among the 4,000 inhabitants of my town of Huigra, there was another kid called Hitler”

My father abandoned us when I was aged around two (as if he hadn’t done enough by baptizing us), meaning I never had the chance to ask him why he gave us those names. I can only suppose that as he called my brother Lenin (second name Helen) it wasn’t for ideological reasons. Perhaps he liked the idea of sitting in on the domestic disputes between these two giants, as though this would allow him to rewrite the history of the 20th century.

I paid no mind to my name when I was a kid, but in Spain, Hitler is pretty unusual, to say the least: the country’s National Statistics Institute lists some 87 Lenins, along with 65 Bolívars, but type in Hitler and you get a message saying it has no record of any. But Ecuador is different: among the 4,000 inhabitants of my town of Huigra, there was another kid called Hitler.

I can’t imagine what the Germans must think of my hometown, but I can describe the surprise on the face of the police officers at the passport check in Bonn when I visited my mother-in-law, who lives there. They brought in a translator to ask about my name, and he told them that it wasn’t my fault I was called Hitler. They also asked me if I understood what my name meant!

I’m well aware of it. I remember being at school when we were taught about his crimes. But, as Shakespeare said: “What’s in a name?” I certainly don’t identify with Hitler: anybody who knows me will testify to that. Mind you, when I think about it, my brother, Lenin, who lives in Spain as well, campaigned on behalf of Podemos…

“I worked for the same construction company for 14 years, and my workmates used to say ‘Heil!’ each morning”

By now I’ve gotten used to people’s efforts to hide their surprise when I’m introduced to them. The other day, I went to buy a monthly transport pass, handed over my identity card and once again noted how the person on the other side of the counter could hardly contain themselves from jumping up and telling their workmates. But overall, my name hasn’t really created any problems for me at work, for example.

I worked for the same construction company for 14 years (I’m currently unemployed), where my workmates used to tease me by saying “Heil!” each morning, but it didn’t bother me. Anyway, I’ve managed to get my own back by naming my two boys Hugo Chávez and Kim Jong-un. Only joking! They’re really called Adrián Giovani (he’s aged 24) and Bryan Andrés (aged 15). I chose these names because my wife and I liked them, like most parents do, except, it seems, in Huigra.

But now I’d like to say something serious. Soon after moving to Madrid around two decades ago, I was working opposite a big, impressive building.

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“What is that place?” I asked a workmate.

“A school,” he replied.

“I hope I can send my kids there one day,” I said.

“Haha, that’ll be the day,” he laughed.

But several years later, my kids ended up going to that school. We had to fight hard, because when we came to Spain there weren’t many Ecuadorians and things have been difficult.

In fact, I still remember that New Year’s Eve when a taxi driver ordered me and my family out of his vehicle, calling us “South American shits.” Perhaps if he knew my name he would have given us a free ride and opened the door for me. I tell this story to show that my status as an immigrant has had a much bigger impact on my life than having the name of one of history’s most notorious villains.

A lot of people I meet say they would change their name in my position. It would be a bit bothersome, but no big deal. But the simple truth is that I don’t really have a problem with my name. At the age of 43, people know by now who I am and what I believe in, and that my second name is of no importance. Who I am has nothing to do with my name, but in how I live my life.

Giovanni Hitler Cando Ruiz’s story was told to Álvaro Llorca.

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