During one of our very first Advanced Spanish classes here in Valpo, our professor told us that for Chileans, the notion of ‘political correctness’ does not exist. That quickly became apparent in the weeks to come as Sophie, a Chinese born American adopted student in our group, frequently received stares, slight bows, or the occasional, ‘konichiwa’ or ‘ni hao.’ Granted, to the Chileans, these are just simple jokes or ways to acknowledge her heritage. They fail to grasp that in the eyes of some, it can be seen as offensive or hurtful. Further, here in Valparaiso, it is rare to see someone not of Latino or European descent, so when there is someone who looks a bit different, they aren’t shy about showing their surprise.
These sorts of acknowledgements are hardly related to race, but include all manner of differences including but not limited to: foreigners in general, homosexuality, individuals from lower class backgrounds, etc. For example, a nickname I got from the host family of one of my friends was Americon – a clever mix of American, and maricón, a Spanish slur for fag. Additionally, being called a gringo is practically tradition when it comes to traveling in a Spanish speaking country.
The important thing to remember is that these nicknames are not given lightly, in fact, the majority of the time they are given from a place of care. Chileans, and most spanish speakers tend to identify people based on the way of look (be that skin color, weight, etc) and use it as a term of affection rather than one of hostility. Yes, of course we are all more than our skin color and there is more behind our identity to that, but that does mean our skin color or easily identifiable traits suddenly vanish because we believe we are better than them. In all honesty, I almost prefer the way things are here rather than in the US where everything must go along with a brightly labeled trigger warning or chose each word with care as to avoid be accused of hate-speech. Because when it comes down to it, I am white and I am gay, and those things are not going to change, and there is no harm is using them as identifying labels in my eyes.
I am often reminded of a quote by Clifton Fadiman, who wrote, “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” A large part of studying abroad is developing the tools to survive and flourish in a foreign country, and part of that is learning to laugh whenever I’m called a gringo or some clever queer slur, which is not that often. Instead of demanding the world be put through a filter of political correctness, I find more value in viewing the world as it is outside of the United States political correctness bubble and learning to appreciate it as it already exists.
That concludes my potentially controversial quasi-rant. Thanks for reading!