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The names we give each other

Love wins

(Carolina Pfister, 2017)

Mr. Gurriel’s offensive “chinito” comments speaks to my experience as a Brazilian where ethnic based nicknames were ubiquitous. For example, for the Japanese descendants you got “Japa”, for white foreigners or very white Brazilians “Alemão” (German), for brown shades “Morena” or “Moreno”, for folks from Turkey “Turco” or “Turca” and so forth… It was playful, but for darker shades, more often than not, many nicknames were seen as pejorative, as I remember.

I am from the state of São Paulo and grew up with others of mixed Lebanese, Turkish, Syrian, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, etc., Native Brazilian and Black African descent, but for the most part folks identified as Brazilian, so I did not grow up with an acute awareness of skin tone or ethnic origin (of course, that speaks to my privilege as a lighter skinned Brazilian). Only in moving to the USA did I learn this scrutiny of ethnic origins that is so typical here.

As a colonized country Brazil mixed a lot, therefore the various shades we are known for. The disparities I felt were overtly class based growing up, but again, as a middle class Brazilian my privileged perspective has to be taken into account. Needless to say Black Brazilians remain disproportionally deprived and little has changed with the murderous treatment of indigenous Brazilians.

Brazil suffers of course from the same racist colonial framework as any other Latin American country. I do wonder however, after 15 years of living in the USA, and in these times of massive awakening and daily evaluation of biases, if and how nicknames have changed in Brazil…

Brazilian friends say it is slowly changing, but for Black Brazilians language is changing faster as much has been articulated in a Black consciousness movement that wasn’t very present when I still lived there.

As goes the nostalgia of the immigrant I miss the playful and endearing camaraderie so easily handed out in Brazil—but with every visit back I also cringe at the ingrained white supremacy so deeply embedded in the nation.

Nowhere is it perfect. Not yet.

But it feels like, despite the push back and tantrums of those who fear change, that an awakening is finally happening and that language follows—or does it lead?

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