When I was in Quito, Ecuador at a church, a young, homeless girl ran up to me and asked, “why are you Chinese?” Back then, I didn’t know any Spanish, so a friend gave her some money, talked to her for me, and she left.
In the Dominican Republic, a young child, no more than eight, ran up to me, and squinted his eyes. He eagerly asked, “¿qué paso?, and awaited an answer. I bent down, and jokingly said, “¡nada chico!”
All over Central and South America, Asian people more or less face this strife. We are all Chinos (Chinese) even if our ancestry is Japanese, Korean, Thai etc. It’s not deliberate racist stereotyping because it is not meant to be offensive. It’s because in the past at least, there was little Asian influence in this part of the world, and China, being the super power it is, was the first ethnicity to be really adopted by Latin America. Since then, it has become a misnomer for all Asians. However, as the world globalizes, this is becoming less true. For example, Brazil has historically boasted a large amount of Japanese immigrants, which is still distinguishable, respected, and evident in its population.
However as I walk and talk my way through the halls of the new school, I cannot help but notice that to them, I am sort of an oddity. I have perplexed many this week by explaining, “Yo soy estadounidense. Yo vivo en un estado se llama Ohio pero yo nací en Corea del Sur. ¿Cachai?”
I am American (really more like United State-sian, because Chileans consider themselves American too, South American. It’s less of a struggle to say this wording). I live in a state called Ohio, but I was born in South Korea. ¿Understand?
I guess the idea of such a big relocation is bizarre for most.
Immediately afterwords, they excitingly inform me that they have other Koreans in the school (yes, I have met them), but like we’re a new product. “Buy one, get two free! Also, there is currently a sale going on Croatians! Gettem’ while they’re hot!”
I know they are trying to make me feel more welcome, but I don’t know them. Just because we are the same ethnicity doesn’t mean we are going to be besties or some crap like that.
I’ve noticed the same with the Germans at this school. Though yes, they do come from the same program, the school makes such a big point of it – they are German! Yes, it is a school funded by Germans, but nevertheless, there is so much emphasis on ethnicity.
I am not exactly surprised by Chile’s general tone about heritage and how it defines you. Especially since I have learned a little history about Chile and its neighbors in class. In like 1866, there was tension between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. (Argentina fits into here somehow, but I don’t know exactly when or why). It was about border disputes, but it apparently left some bad blood between the nationalities. My host brother was conversing about how Peruvians are ugly in the car ride home with his friends, and I just had a conversation with my host mother and nana that led to a speech about how Argentineans are snooty.
I usually expect some level of discrimination when I travel because, come on, the United States as a whole is no better, and for some reason, we think we are some angelic country. However, the sheer prevalence in Chile is very new and slightly overwhelming to me. I am trying to keep the AFS mantra, “It’s not good or bad, just different” in my head, but is racism just different? People don’t march, kill each other over, or make laws against things that are merely different, right? Overall though, everything is going well. More to come real soon! I think my family is going to go to the coast next!