No, I'm not talking about feminine and masculine khaki pants.
I recently read this post and can relate.
China or chino (pronounced "chee-na/chee-no") is Spanish for the word Chinese, and it's often used to describe anyone of Asian background in Latin American cultures. I can only speak to my experience, having married into a Peruvian family and visited the country several times now. I cannot tell you how many times I have been referred to as "la china" or "chinita". And how much it bugged the hell out of me.
Part of it is knee-jerk, the "hey, I'm not Chinese, stupid" reaction. When I first pointed out that I wasn't Chinese, the response I got was, oh, it's not meant like that. It means people like you, they've given you a nickname. Isn't that nice? Uh huh. While I understand it's common practice to assign nicknames to people based on a prominent physical attribute, such as flaca/o if you're thin, gorda/o if you're heavy, chata/o if you're short, rubia/o and sometimes gringa/o if you have light brown or blonde hair - one friend of my husband's was called "pollo mojado" because he kinda looked like a wet chicken. But I don't know. I still don't buy the "it's because people really like you" explanation. I also understand that these nicknames can quickly turn into ammo to insult and diminish - the balance can easily teeter depending on the situation. And personally, not that I have anything against China or its people, or think it's an insult to be called Chinese, but I'm just not Chinese. But because I'm Asian, my nickname is automatically "Chinese"? And on top of it, the diminutive is usually applied so I'm "little Chinese girl"? This just doesn't sit well with me. Isn't there anything else about me that stands out? I'm not saying I want to be called "fatty", but isn't there more to me? Or is my ethnicity all that they see? Or how about just using my plain old first name?
Even people who aren't of Asian descent are china/o if they have remotely Asian-looking features. Similarly, anyone with darker-toned skinned is likely to be bestowed with negra/o. And it is not always said with affection. As is india/o. Don't even get me started on that.
I have yet to meet a white Peruvian whose nickname is blanca/o. The closest is colorada/o for someone who sunburns easily, but it doesn't have the same undertones that the word "redneck" has here in the U.S.
My husband, of course, thinks I'm overreacting. But then I point out that he doesn't appreciate that everyone thinks he's Mexican here. He realizes that it's the same thing as what I'm railing against. But he just shrugs his shoulders and says "oh well." He just doesn't feel the same discomfort with it that I do. And he seems fine with the fact that our son will be called "chinito". In fact his Peruvian friends already call him that. Ugh.
Not to be misunderstood - overall, I love Peru, Peruvians, and my in-laws. They have been nothing but accepting and loving towards me and our son. They are quick-witted and fun, and joking, teasing, and colorful verbal sparring, seeing who has the best put-downs and the best comebacks and zingers are part of day-to-day interactions. But this is one ingrained cultural habit that I have a hard time accepting. It's still racist, even without having malicious intent. Should I just chalk it up to "I'm not one of them, I'll just never undertand?" Maybe some of our readers of Asian-Mexican/Central or South American descent can help me understand this phenomenon and complacency towards racial nicknames - or am I just another overworked, oversensitized "crazy American" getting upset over nothing. Any thoughts?