Monday, November 6, 2017

"Chinitos" - in Baseball and Buenos Aires

Last week, I watched in disappointment as my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers lost the deciding seventh game of baseball's World Series to the Houston Astros. Except for Game Seven, it was an exciting Series between the sport's two best teams, and the 'Stros were deserving—but there was also one disheartening blot on their first championship in the franchise's 55-year history.
My Dodgers lost the Series last Wednesday, but memorabilia was still on sale at LAX Saturday night.
That was the fault of Houston first baseman Yuliesky Gurriel. Elated over hitting a Game Three home run off the Dodgers' Yu Darvish, the Cuban-born Gurriel bought into a racist stereotype by narrowing his eyelids, using his index fingers, toward the Japanese-born Darvish. He also, apparently, mouthed the Spanish insult chinito (Chinaman) at Darvish and later gave an unconvincing public apology even as baseball commissioner Rob Manfred considered suspending the Houston player.

Many of former Argentine president Carlos Menem's opponents vilified him as a turco (Turk)
Here it bears mention that Cubans, and other Latin Americans, often apply the term chino indiscriminately for anybody of Asian ancestry, and there are other similar slurs. Argentines, for instance, may refer to anybody of Middle Eastern origins as as a turco (Turk).  Enemies of former president Carlos Menem—of Syrian descent—sometimes called him a turco de mierda ("shitty Turk").
A small supermercado chino in my Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo
Still, such terms are not always racist. Throughout the city of Buenos Aires, for instance, there are small Chinese-owned supermarkets—glorified convenience stores in many cases—that are known descriptively as supermercados chinos or, simply, chinos.
I was reminded of that when, on my Saturday night flight from Los Angeles to Lima, I watched the Argentine film Un Cuento Chino (loosely translated as "Chinese Takeaway," trailer above), starring Ricardo Darin as the irascible owner of a small hardware store who finds himself sheltering—ambivalently—Jun Quian, a young Chinese man (played by Ignacio Huang) who has arrived in the Argentine capital in search of a long-lost uncle.

Neither speaks a word of the other's language but, as it happens, both Darin's character and his Chinese guest have more in common than might be expected, but I'll plead spoiler alert on that. It does come back to the film's title—a cuento chino is a tall tale, though I don’t know the idiom’s exact etymology in Spanish.

For what it's worth, I'll close by noting that Darin's son, also an actor, goes by the nickname Chino. His female counterpart might be actress China Suarez, whose maternal grandmother’s parents were Japanese immigrants to Argentina.

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