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World Association of International Studies

Post Pope Francis and Nationality
Created by John Eipper on 03/14/13 5:42 PM

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Pope Francis and Nationality (Evelyn Aleman, USA, 03/14/13 5:42 pm)

I hope that all is well with WAISers. I follow the exchanges all of the time, and enjoy them always.

Question: Is Pope Francis mostly seen as an Argentine or an Italian? This is the conversation taking place in my facebook page.

Is Francis perceived as an Argentine? And, how does his ethnicity tie in to the rest of Latin America since, as JE posted earlier, Argentines are often perceived ambivalently or "stuck up" by their neighbors? Is this partly because they are regarded as being more European rather than mestizo?

Are his Italian origins perceived as the Church's efforts to keep the Papacy within Europe?

JE comments: First of all, it's a joy to hear from Evelyn Aleman, who hasn't written the Forum in a couple of years.  For WAISers who don't know Evelyn, she is a Salvadoran-American public relations specialist in Los Angeles, California.  Here is the link to her company, Media Image PR:


To respond to Evelyn's question on Pope Francis's identity, it is true that he won't be considered "Latin American" enough by some, or Italian enough by the faithful there who wanted to reclaim the papacy after 35 years.  On the other hand, there is nothing more Argentinian than Italian ancestry, red wine, and a pizza with black olives and "muzzarella."  (Argentines always pronounce their favorite cheese this way, although it's usually written "mozzarella.")  Buenos Aires is the closest Italy ever came to having a colony in the Americas.

Welcome back to WAIS, Evelyn!

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  • Pope Francis and Nationality (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 03/15/13 4:03 AM)
    Evelyn Aleman asked on 14 March: Is Pope Francis mostly seen as an Argentine or an Italian?

    Rather than answer this question, I ask: is Frank Sinatra mostly Italian or American?

    In a context that has invented a race, Hispanic, we should seek a deeper understanding of the concept of ethnicity.

    JE comments: Hyphenated identities are always tricky. How about we just agree that Sinatra and Francis/Bergoglio are two outstanding Italian-Americans? To this august list I'd add our own Italian-surnamed colleague Rodolfo Neirotti, MD, an Argentine who lives in the United States.

    Speaking of origins and identities, in my comments to Evelyn Aleman's post of 14 March, I wrote that she was born in El Salvador. Evelyn corrected me, that she was born in the US to a family of Salvadoran heritage. I made the edit on our website. My apologies to Evelyn for the error.

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    • On Identity Terms and the Hyphen (Evelyn Aleman, USA 03/16/13 4:15 AM)
      Interesting question posed by Rodolfo Neirotti (15 March). I would say that Sinatra is Italian-American, though I'm sure most Americans see him as American. However, where would they place Robert De Niro or Joe Pesci, who are perhaps more outspoken about their Italian heritage?

      On facebook, I've read comments stating that in Latin America, hyphenations don't exist. How do we then refer to Japanese born and raised in Peru, but who may nonetheless consider themselves Japanese? Are they Japanese-Peruvian, Peruvian-Japanese or Japanese? How to reference the Garifuna in Central America? Are they solely Garifuna or Nicaraguan Garifuna, Honduran Garifuna, etc.?

      JE comments: The hyphen/"guión" definitely is used in Latin American identity terms: for example, afro-cubano, judeo-argentino, japonés-peruano (or nipo-peruano, which strikes my Anglophone ears as offensive). Sometimes, however, you see the combined adjective (afrocubano) or even two words (judeo argentino). I'll have to check if the spelling conventions have been codified by the Real Academia.

      As to how to "refer" to bicultural groups, I always say that members of any ethnicity should be able to choose the identity term they prefer. The key is to listen to them.

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      • Identity Terms and the Hyphen in Latin America (Henry Levin, USA 03/16/13 8:07 AM)
        There is at least one case where I doubt that Latin-Americans use hyphenated references to nationality, that of Asians. I was in Peru last September. The ex-president (currently in jail) was Fujimori, a Japanese-Peruvian who may have been born in Japan, but claimed to be born in Peru. I never heard him referred to as Peruvian or Japanese, but as "El Chino" by everyone including politicians, academicians, and taxi drivers.

        The press referred to him sometimes by name and sometimes by El Chino. This term is also used by many Latin Americans, in my experience, to refer to anyone of Asian origin. In New York we still have many green grocers and bodegas run by Koreans. One day my mother-in-law asked me to go to the Chino at the corner grocery to get her something. I mentioned to her that he was Korean. Her response was "it's the same, lo mismo," and she believed that.

        JE comments:  I've had similar "es lo mismo" conversations in Latin America, although people are becoming more sophisticated in recent years, and the coreano/japonés/chino distinction is gaining traction.  To complicate (or perhaps to oversimplify) this topic further, "chino" has long been used in Latin America to refer to "indigenous-looking" people.  It's also a term of endearment, especially when preceded by "my":  Mi chino.


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        • "Chino" in Latin America (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 03/16/13 12:32 PM)
          John is correct (16 March); the use of "chino" in Latin America is contextual. The meaning changes as reflected by the article preceding it. "Mi Chino " is very endearing; "ese Chino" is an identifier or a disrespectful comment; "Los Chinos" can mean all Asians, or that group over there, or the Chinese. To the racist and the uneducated the word is a nonselective identifier for all Asians--just like referring to all Middle Easterners as "Judíos."

          If you have Asian features, your friends and family might regularly not address you by your name and instead address you as Chino, as in "Oye, Chino." But if a stranger addresses you like that it would be a sign of disrespect!

          To confuse things, many Latin Americans of all colors and ethnicities grow up with an apodo (nickname) which replaces their real name and ignores ethnicity by emphasizing behavioral or physical characteristics--e.g. Gordo, flaco, el matón, la rubia, el calvo, Pancho.

          JE comments: In Argentina, Middle Easterners tend to be known as "turcos," which I always took as a throwback to Ottoman times, when all immigrants from that region traveled with Ottoman papers. A question for Francisco Wong-Díaz: is this also the case in Cuba? Jewish Argentines are often known as "ruso" or "polaco."

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      • WAISers on Identity Terms in Latin America (John Eipper, USA 03/17/13 3:55 AM)
        I received these responses to our discussion on identity terms and biculturalism in Latin America:

        from Evelyn Aleman (US):

        As in Argentina (see JE's comments of 16 March), in El Salvador everyone who is or has Middle Eastern roots is called "turco."

        from Francisco Wong-Díaz (US):

        I don't recall the use of "turcos" as a generic for Middle Easterners in Cuba. "Judíos" was the most common usage, and "polacos" was the generic for Eastern Europeans until the Revolution. When the Russians began to subsidize Cuba, their military and political personnel began to arrive in droves. Like their American predecessors, they walked around in shorts, wearing sandals and summer shirts. "Russians" were given official respect and status as a specific nationality within the USSR. When tourism from the Soviet Union and its satellites increased, it became necessary for the average Cuban in the population to be more careful in his/her usage, since failure to do so would indicate lack of revolutionary zeal.

        from Henry Levin (US):

        And those who commit street crimes in Spain are generally referred to as Rumanos (any Eastern European), Gitanos (gypsies), or Panchos/Panchitos (Latin Americans, with special attention to Ecuadorians, even though the term seems to refer to Mexicans). I have yet to hear them referred to as Chinos, Árabes, or Africanos, or even Americanos.

        JE comments:  There must be a connection between Cuba's colonial status through 1898 and the infrequency with which "turco" is used to refer to Middle Easterners.  Were citizens of the Ottoman Empire allowed to immigrate to Cuba during the early years of independence?  In Colombian popular parlance, "turco" and "árabe" are used interchangeably.  (In Gabriel García Márquez's novel Crónica de una muerte anunciada, the protagonist Santiago Nasar is called both "turco" and "árabe" by his neighbors.  Nasar is actually the son of a Lebanese Christian.)

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        • "Polaco" in Costa Rica (Leo Goldberger, USA 03/17/13 3:09 PM)
          In connection with the mention of "polacos" in the discussion of identity terms, in my recent stay in Costa Rica I happened to learn that the use of that term for the Jews of Costa Rica dates back to the influx of some 900 Jewish refugees from a small Polish village in the mid-1930s. While they experienced the term "polacos" as a slur (though it is a common Spanish word for "door-to-door salesman" in Costa Rica), they apparently found it preferable to the loaded terms "judío" or "israelita." Often they were simply called "Klappers," a reference to the clacking of the wheels of the ox-carts they used as peddlers. Incidentally, it seems the practice of peddling was found so objectionable that it was eventually outlawed.

          JE comments: As a Hispanist married to a Pole, I should have known that "polaco" in Costa Rica refers to an itinerant peddler, but I had no clue. My thanks to Leo Goldberger for the language/culture lesson! The conversation linked below is quite illuminating: "polaco" means peddler in Cuba as well:


          Apparently the term was also used as a slur to refer to Catalan-speaking immigrants. I suspect this has to do with the Catalan reputation for entrepreneurship, a stereotype also associated with Jewish people ("polacos").  Didn't Falangista propaganda call the Catalanes the "judíos de España"?

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          • Catalans as "Polacos" (Paul Preston, -UK 03/18/13 1:28 AM)
            In response to Leo Goldberger and JE (17 March), Spanish right-wingers still refer to Catalans as polacos. In recognition of this, the wonderful political satire on TV3, the Catalan station, is called Polonia.

            JE comments: Here's an interesting essay from Polska Viva, the "Diario en español de Polonia":


            According to the above, in the 17th century Polish timber for Spain's shipbuilding industry arrived by land to Marseille, from where Catalan ships would transport it to ports in Andalusia. The Poles referred to the Spaniards of the south as "czarny" (black), which led to the modern Catalan term "charnego" (xarnego) for Andalusian immigrants in Catalunya.

            While "czarnego" is the correct genitive form of the Polish adjective, this sounds to me like a folk etymology.  Perhaps Paul Preston could comment. 

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          • Turcos, Polacos and Poloneses in Brazil (David Fleischer, Brazil 03/18/13 1:52 AM)
            After World War I, many immigrants were displaced from Lebanon, Syria and Armenia by the defunct Ottoman Empire and the new Turkish Republic, and large numbers came to Brazil and some to Argentina. Because they were obliged to travel on Turkish passports, when they arrived in Brazil they were immediately nicknamed "turcos"--a definition they disliked--especially the Armenians, whose country had been decimated by the Turks and Russians. Armenians hate both with a passion even today.

            Many of these immigrants became itinerant peddlers, and with the money they saved were able to settle down and open shops in small and mid-sized towns. Eventually, they were able to induce many of their relatives to immigrate to Brazil.

            Many Jewish immigrants in the same period also followed this sequence from traveling peddlers to shopkeepers to businessmen. Many Armenians, Lebanese and Syrians are orthodox Christians, but some are Muslims. The Muslim and Jewish communities in São Paulo are proud that despite the conflicts in the Middle East, they get along very well in Brazil.

            Many Polish immigrants settled in the southern state of Paraná and were nicknamed "polacos" by their local hosts, although the correct Portuguese word used in Brazil is "poloneses." When Pope John Paul II first visited Brazil in 1980, a joke appeared where the Polish-descent people in Paraná became afraid of this foreigner who was to visit their state--because the press had bannered that this visitor was a "papa polaco" [Polish Pope]. But in slang, "papa polaco" was understood by them to mean "a person who eats Polish people."

            Pope John Paul II was received by a big crowd in the soccer stadium in Curitiba (state capital of Paraná) and was greeted by descendents of the first Polish immigrants. They had even erected a "model old style Polish family farm house" for the Pope to inspect.

            In the early 1900s, many brothels in Rio had imported European women and the locals nicknamed them "polacas," although probably there were only a few actually from Poland. So much for the "generic" terms applied to foreigners in Brazil.

            JE comments: Poles are fond of building folk village theme parks, called "Skansen" in Polish, after the open-air museum in Stockholm. Among many others, there is a large Skansen outside of Lublin:


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