Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chinos and Pakis

What is a "Chino" you ask?
I wondered that too when I first arrived in Barcelona and asked someone where to buy a hair dryer (secador de pelo). 
They directed me to a “Chino” down the street. 
Surely, I thought, this was just one person's backwards way of identifying a store owned by persons of Asian descent. But, no. It's what everyone calls the dollar-stores that occupy most blocks (including the people who work there).

A Chino, however, as my Spanish language-exchange partner pointed out, is distinctly different from a "Paki," which is a store that features all same products but is owned by persons of South Asian descent.

Are you kidding me?!  In the year 2010, in Europe, there are still people who think it's acceptable to call a store by the ethnicity of the owner, and moreover, to lump all persons of a very broad ethnic descent into one terribly inappropriate term?!?

Since being here in Spain, I have found myself in several cringe-worthy situations where people of Spanish descent crossed my acceptability boundary.
Perhaps I’ve been overly sensitized from living in California, but
the Spaniards, it seems, don't get P.C.

Here's another example when the National Basketball Team posed before playing the Chinese Team in 2008 in Beijing:

José Calderón, point-guard for the team, told cnn"We thought it was something appropriate and that it would always be interpreted as somewhat loving. Nevertheless, some of the European media did not see it this way." 

That about sums it up. The Spanish can say and act in extremely racist ways and not realize why anyone would find it offensive. (My language partner defended himself by saying, “If someone called me an "Espani" I wouldn’t care!”)

Compare these illustrations with our experience living in the Raval. Within a 20 meter radius of our flat, you have your pick of a Philipino, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Romanian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani restaurants. It's a place where cultures from all over the world intermix peacefully to create a fascinating urban fabric. There are Spainards who live and work here too, but you are more likely to hear Urdu or Vietnamese spoken on the streets than Castellano or Catalan.

In the Spaniards defense, I haven’t witnessed any overtly hostile racist behavior since being here. Spain has also experienced an incredible influx of immigration since the late 1970's, the end of the Franco era, and before that it was not easy for foreigners to immigrate. For the old-guard, people like my friend Joro, it has probably been  somewhat shocking to go through the dramatic changes of the last 30 years. 
Maybe they don't know what to make of it all and haven't had much experience dealing with other cultures.

I definitely do not know what to make of it. My Spanish teacher says, in general, Spaniards don't travel outside of Spain often. But I don’t think the undertones of racism that persist within Spanish culture can be explained away that easily.

On a similar note, here is an outrageous video - The Name Game - which came to me via the always witty, Sang Lee.  It is worth a watch.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, the rest of the world definitely isn't as PC as the US is. I found it refreshing in some circumstances.