by Guest Contributor Alex Alvarez, originally posted on Guanabee
Associate Editor Alex Alvarez takes a look at how nicknames among minorities work to keep a good gordita down and why you, shorty, shouldn’t take it anymore.
Words, in and of themselves, are without power. Their potency comes from the relationship between the speaker and the listener. As any woman who has walked by a construction site will tell you, “Hello beautiful” is different coming from a strange man whispering in your ear than from your mother. It’s through these relationships that words can becomes tools, bridges, weapons or any other sort of melodramatic metaphor you want to use. If relationships are defined by power —who has it, who doesn’t, who wants it and who is in the position to bestow it—language, then, is a means of both establishing power in relationships and also of demolishing and subverting it. A “thanks, beautiful” aimed right back at a strange man is surprisingly effective.
While writing my response a few weeks ago to an article in “San Francisco Weekly” that “roughly” and incorrectly translates the Spanish word “negro” to the English word “nigger,” I realized most of the Guanabee readership already understands the nuances that appear in, yes derogatory, but complicated Spanish-language labels. And the same could be said for other ethnic minorities, (or at least the pockets of them that are represented in popular culture and media), who use certain pet names and phrases wrought with prejudice, but excuse them with a flippant, “This is how we are. And, besides, we don’t mean any harm by it.”
But “this is how we are” is not an excuse. Why? Well. It’s not how I am. So it’s not how we are. Adaptation is possible. It just takes effort and exposure to different ways of thinking, even if I have to drill it into you during family holiday get-togethers. It is not enough for us to merely explain — and thus, on some level, excuse — the differences between Anglo and Latino, or Black and White, or any other minority versus majority as they relate to potentially hateful speech. Instead, let’s take a look at why these differences exist and what, exactly, they result in accomplishing, based on history and cultural context. What does a language say about the people who speak it? And vice-versa? Let’s find out! Hokay? Hokay.
But, um, first: A preface of sorts. It’s important I make it known that I don’t feel I’m qualified to write about slang and language as it pertains to anyone who is not Latino or Anglo. As I alluded to above, anything I would have to say about the experience of any other group would be merely observational and the result of a sort of clinical detachment. It’s not my experience. I can’t offer anything except, “Well, from what I observe… this seems to mean this. And isn’t that interesting?” But it is interesting. And it is important to discuss these observations. So, that said, do let’s continue:
Such A Colorful People, No?: Nicknames Based On Appearance
Many terms of endearment in Spanish are based on appearance. “Cute” little nicknames like morenita, negrita and güerita abound. The diminutive “ita,” as it’s used here, translates to “little,” therefore effectively rendering it’s object to be both small and, presumbably, a possession belonging to the speaker. Read the Post Body Language: How Nicknames Objectify Minority Women And Why I Don’t Care “How You Meant It”