Before coming to Ecuador, I was warned that people would call me (and any other girl who looked East Asian) “chinita” (or “little Chinese”). I was really upset and offended by this, and even made up an over-the-top defensive rant-argument that went something like this (while wagging my index finger with sass): Whoa man, slow down there. First of all, I’m was born and raised in the United States, so you’d better recognize and call me “estadounidensita” or something and then let me call you “ecuadorianito.” Second of all, just because I have the physical features of an East Asian doesn’t mean my ethnicity is Chinese. What if I were Korean or Japanese? Get it right, bro. Third of all, just because you have the physical features of a Latin American doesn’t mean I can call you Mexican, Argentinean, or El Salvadorean. In fact, you’d probably be offended if I called you any of those too, so think about how I feel. Fourth of all, why are you judging me by my physical features in the first place? You see that I’m foreign so just call me gringo like all the other international people here. At least that way I won’t feel like you’re labeling me and putting me down as one of your prototypical “chinitas.” Now get lost.
Whoa, that was really intense. I hope I didn’t offend anyone by writing that (I apologize if I did), but I wanted to give you insight on what I’m actually thinking when people actually call me “chinita.” I think “chinita” is a stigmatized label that consists of 1) having slanty eyes or other stereotypical East Asian features, 2) being fresh off the boat from China, and 3) owning a Chifa (what Chinese restaurants are called here). Don’t get me wrong, I love my Chinese heritage, but in reality, I identify as a United States citizen. And when someone assumes your identity (wrong) with confidence based on some trivial physical features, you feel hurt, angry, offended, and defensive. I’m a pretty proud American haha. I’ve only had “chinita” said to my face a handful of times, but it’s usually whispered (and they don’t think I hear them, but I obviously do).
I soon realized that my own reactions were inexcusable as well because they were perpetuating hatred, hostility, and resentment against Ecuadorians. who called me “chinita”. And I’m not about that life man. Rather, I wanted to respond in a way that was full of love and respect. I decided to dig deeper into the context of why and how “chinita” is used and here’s what I found: 1) Ecuadorians don’t have much exposure to Asians because there are so few of them here to begin with, and 2) Most of the Asians here are Chinese and have established a presence with their “Chifa” restaurants, and therefore 3) East-Asians here stand out in general, so they’re just clumped into the most popular “different (Asian)” group, Chinese. So I guess it makes sense why an Ecuadorian might assume all East Asian-looking people are Chinese. And because there are so few East Asians around, people are intrigued and react spontaneously, like “oooh, chinita!” (Maybe like when we in the USA hear a British accent and we’re instantly like “Oh my gosh, you’r British!!!!!?!?”) Another thing I learned is that generally, when people say “chinita,” it isn’t meant to be offensive; it’s just what they’ve learned and seen being said, so they say it too (it’s a norm). My host-mom also told me that it’s an endearing term for East Asian looking people, but I think she was just saying that so I wouldn’t be hurt or offended when I heard it… Anyway, therefore, I can’t really be raging or hating on Ecuadorians who call me “chinita.” Instead, I should seek to foster understanding and bridge that cultural gap (i.e. it might be OK to say it here in Ecuador, but it could come off as really offensive to an East Asian-American).
What would this consist of? I’m not totally sure yet, actually! I’m still trying to figure that out. I guess first, it would mean not reacting with the crazy defensive rant in the first paragraph. Gotta approach the situation with coolness, patience and understanding. Next, ideally, I would like to sit down, get a good cup of coffee, and talk with each and every person who has called me “chinita.” Unfortunately, that’s not possible. I’d try to have a conversation a though. It’d be chill. Actually, I’ve already talked to my host family about this kind of stuff and they were really cool about it (they received it, they asked questions, we discussed, etc.). I hope to have even more conversations in the future (hopefully opportunities come up)!! But yeah, we’ll see… I’m actually not sure where I’m going with this anymore because it’s way past my bed time and I’m really tired haha. I’ll try to write a follow-up post to this later if I learn more, talk to people, etc.
BUT if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, etc. please let me know!! I’d love to hear them. HOLLA.