Why is This Popular: Teen Culture in Xela

Editor Steve Mullaney teaches at a middle school here in Xela. He sends us monthly reports called “Why is This Popular” on his teens’ fashion-related and habit-related obsessions. This month’s dispatch: The Nickname “Chino”

By Steve Mullaney

Style is different everywhere, but nowhere is this more apparent in Guatemala where the majority of us fashionistas walk around puzzled. We try to bring you explanations behind the most confusing trends with a special report on a very special nickname that every other student in middle school seemingly has, i.e. “Chino.”

In every circle of friends there is at least one person with the nickname “Chino” or “China” which is a nickname given to someone who “looks Chinese”. Given that very few Guatemalans have seen someone who is Chinese in real life, it’s unclear on why one person is designated more Chinese-looking than another. Completely omitting any incisive theoretical analysis on why apodos based on stereotyping foreign cultures is a bad thing (I’ll leave that to Tim Wise, Cornel West and EntreMundos) I’ll use the rest of this column to analyze the ephemera.

In our wonderful city there are shortages of many types, but the most glaring shortage seems to be a shortage of maps – specifically maps of Asia. By using this nickname it seems that folks are blissfully unaware that there are countries beyond China. For instance Japan. Japan exists. As do, say, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. And that’s just off the top of my head.

I’ve known many an Asian while visiting Guatemala, who has since given up trying to insist that they are Korean. Explaining that there are other countries was just too frustrating. The first step to ending the “Chino” nickname is showing that there are other Asian countries out there. Perhaps the public will get so frustrated keeping “Vietnamito” “Hmongcita” and “Indonesito” straight that the whole charade will just die off.

This practice must be extremely frustrating to the nation of Japan which sponsors a number of public works projects. I can only imagine the poor foreign minister to arrive and be introduced as the “‘Chinito’ from Japan”. Future funding should be linked to the eradication of the “Chino” nickname.  “You want us to build you a water treatment plant? Call me Japanese.”

In my role as a teacher I’ve found a very effective method to get my kids to change their ways.  I simply say “By the same logic I will call you all Mexicans because being Guatemalan is sorta like being Mexican because the two countries are in the same region.”  After the kids’ eyes bug out and protest they usually drop the “Chino” nickname.

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