Fun fact: Here in Nicaragua it is totally acceptable and completely commonplace to call someone by their skin colour. It’s not rude or offensive, especially when made diminutive in the typical Spanish way (by adding -ito or -ita to the end), which further demonstrates that it’s affectionate and friendly.
As you may imagine, this initially struck me as odd and a bit uncomfortable. But now I find it delightful in it’s own way, and downright hilarious at times. Let me explain.
I am white. And while some call me “blanca” which literally means white in Spanish, the much more common thing to call me is “chela” or often the more affectionate form, “chelita”, which is Nicaraguan slang for “white girl”.
People literally say “good morning, white girl” or “what are you looking for, white girl?” and this is funny to me. How could it not be?! When I come from a world where addressing someone by their colour is easily construed as racist or intolerant or any manner of not-nice-things. It often feels like I’m living inside some parody you might find on SNL or MAD TV.
But don’t worry – as mentioned before, I am not being singled out, nor is this rude or about race. It’s perfectly acceptable to call your friend “morenita” (brown) or “negrito” (black) should you choose, and no one means me any harm by calling me white. After all, they are just stating the obvious.
Which now I also do, though not without feeling some sense of irony that because I’m saying it in Spanish it is somehow much more okay than if I was saying it in English…
To make matters worse/much more hilarious, Nicaraguans generally assume there are certain things white girls can’t do. Such as dance. Or drive a truck. Or open a barbed wire fence. But especially dance. Literally every time I have danced in front of or with Nicaraguans I have gotten a thumbs up from someone.
Sometimes this thumbs up is accompanied by nothing more than a giant smile and the word “chelita”. Other times an incredulous expression and an over-exaggeration of my mad dance skills accompanies the thumb. I kid you not. It is so sweet and so disarming, this general exuberance at my abilities (when combined with my skin colour), that I cannot help myself but to grin hugely in return and sometimes even give a thumbs up back.
Upon recounting this to my best friend, she nearly keeled over laughing at the image of a bunch of Nicaraguans standing around a dance floor with thumbs up and big smiles saying, “good job white girl!” enthusiastically.
And she’s right. It’s hilarious. And also my actual life 🙂
Now my bestie and her boyfriend apparently give each other the thumbs up and say “good job, chela” at every opportunity. A fact which makes this white girl throw her own thumb in the air and grin from ear to ear. Good job, chela! You’ll be all practiced up for when you visit…! 😉